Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Passionately Present and Mysteriously Distant

I was invited to write one week of devotionals for the 2011 edition of the "Upper Room Disciplines." The devotionals are based on the lectionary scriptures for a week in October. Here is one.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011 – Read Exodus 33:18-23

How strange that God would show Moses his backside! We are told in the verses prior to this week’s readings that they spoke “face to face, as one speaks to a friend.” (33:11) Maybe Moses has grown accustomed to the tent of meeting. I can’t imagine getting used to God's descending in a cloud and being left with a shiny face.

But Moses desires more. He yearns for a sense of God's presence. In today’s reading, he pushes the envelope a little further and asks for a glimpse of God’s glory.

God reminds him that he cannot see God’s face directly, then places him on a rock and passes by, removing a hand from Moses’ eyes long enough for him to get a glance. It gives Moses the assurance he needs.

Grace is strange indeed - both passionately present and mysteriously distant. Experiencing this duality is the essence of knowing the glory of God in Christ.

The journey to a grateful heart begins with a willingness to look for God in mystical moments great and small. We can not grasp God; God is revealed. We do not reach out and touch. God comes to us. Our part is to be attentive.

Many of us desperately search for God. We read books, attend worship, go to Bible study, and apply principles; yet we still experience a profound hunger. Perhaps goodness passes us by all the time. We miss it because we are wired to be consumers rather than people of gratitude. Thank God for those mystical moments that open our eyes!

When have you experienced God this week or caught a glimpse of God’s backside? Ask God for more awareness.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

My Raccoon Story Published in "The Upper Room"

I love to share my raccoon story. It involves an experience of learning Christ’s way of forgiveness during the early years of my ministry. The full story can be found by clicking the raccoon on the right column of my blog.

I’d like to share a briefer version that was published in the September/October 2009 edition of “The Upper Room.”

“Raccoons at the Table”
Read Philippians 1:15-18

What does it matter? The important thing is that … whether from false motives or true, Christ is preached. – Philippians 1:18 (NIV)

One night while we were wilderness camping, raccoons tore into a bag of trash I neglected to hang up. I rose early to find a mess. I pondered three simple thoughts. First, This is what raccoons do. Second, They really didn’t hurt me. Third, Next time I’ll tie my trash up higher!

God led me to write in my journal about the “raccoons” in my life, the people who seem to go through my “trash” looking for something – my weaknesses, scars, and unresolved pain – making a mess and causing me problems. One by one, I prayed for and about them, remembering the three thoughts above.

In Philippians, Paul spoke of those who “preached Christ out of selfish ambition, … supposing they could stir up trouble” for him. But Paul had learned to let go of anger at people like this. He said “what does it matter?”

Some people seem to rummage through our weaknesses, trying to “stir up trouble.” But anger, retaliation, and distress are unnecessary. As Jesus told his disciples, we can be “wise as serpents” and “harmless as doves” (Matt. 10:15, KJV). All of us, even troublemakers, are welcome at God’s table.

Prayer: “Lord, help us to face life’s troublemakers with confidence in your power. In Christ’s name. Amen.”

Thought for the day
Troublemakers are troubled people. Pray for them!

Prayer Focus

Copyright 2009 Stephen P. West, all rights reserved

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

World's Oldest Existing Bible Manuscript

This is a fascinating video about the world's oldest existing manuscript of the New Testament. Its pages can now be seen online. It is called the Codex Sinaiticus and its pages can be viewed at Codex Sinaiticus.

Check this video out:

Sunday, July 19, 2009

How to Be an Artist

I have become fascinated with pictures of paths since I got my new camera phone. I suppose the winding road, the journey, the trail bending upward is one of the most vivid metaphors for understanding my spiritual life. Here's one I took on a recent trip with Sandy to the Japanese Gardens in Cheekwood near Nashville.

Some of the other sacred metaphors that have become powerful for me as I explore and seek to understand my spiritual life have been the tree planted by streams of water, the dancer within me, healing and cleansing light, soaring like a young eagle under a mother's wings, floating on streams of living water, and being shaped and molded like clay.

Here's a new metaphor that came across my path - artistry. I share the quote with you.

How to be an artist: Stay loose. Learn to watch snails. Plant impossible gardens. Make little signs that say "yes" and post them all over your house. Make friends with uncertainty.

Henry Miller

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

God, You, and I Dance

This is from the heart of an unknown author ...

When I meditated on the word Guidance, I kept seeing “dance” at the end of the word. I remember reading that doing God’s will is a lot like dancing.

When two people try to lead, nothing feels right. The movement doesn’t flow with the music, and everything is quite uncomfortable and jerky. When one person realizes that, and lets the other lead, both bodies begin to flow with the music. One gives gentle cues, perhaps with a nudge to the back or by pressing lightly in one direction or another. It’s as if two become one body, moving beautifully. The dance takes surrender, willingness, and attentiveness from one person and gentle guidance and skill from the other.

My eyes drew back to the word Guidance. When I saw “G: I thought of God, followed by “u” and “i”. “God, “u” and “i” dance.” God, you, and I dance. As I lowered my head, I became willing to trust that I would get guidance about my life. Once again, I became willing to let God lead.
My prayer for you today is that God’s blessings and mercies be upon you on this day and everyday. May you abide in God as God abides in you. Dance together with God, trusting God to lead and to guide you through each season of your life.

And I hope you dance!

Sunday, July 12, 2009

What Would You Say on your Funeral Bulletin?

After my uncle died, I got to thinking about my funeral or memorial service plans again. I wrote something that I would like on the back of the worship guide whenever the time comes. I'm sure over the years I will change it, but I found this to be a deeply spiritual exercise. What would you write on yours? Here it is:

If you are reading this, I have died. I want you to know how much I love all of you, especially my beloved Sandy and the fruit of my life, Debbie and Jeremy. I want you to know I love the church God gave us, and I gave my life in ministry because even in tough times I kept uncovering incredible joys and mysteries. And I want you to know I loved life and all of its strange unfolding.

I have requested each aspect of this service to reflect not only my life and loves, but to be a worship time that uplifts and brings healing of the heart. I love worship and I hope this time contains a glimpse of the glory of heaven where I believe we will all feast and fellowship and sing eternal praise. I’m already here. I’ll see you when it’s your time to pull up a chair and join us.

Remember that this service is not for me. It is for you. I have counseled many people through grief and have discovered that everybody grieves in their own way. Allow yourself time and space to walk through the journey with depth and find your joy. Look for the holy moments and find healing. Remember time is your friend and that others can’t really understand or grieve in the same way you do. Give them space to grieve in their way, too. If you get stuck, get some help. Otherwise, know that God is using this time as a means of grace to draw you closer.

The best way you can honor my life is to live yours to the fullest. Learn to sing in a way that “prays twice”, as Augustine taught. Let go of anxiety and behold life as a great adventure. Believe that your joy is a choice. Don’t be afraid of silence, God has spoken to me in amazing ways using that language. Find forgiveness and live life as a miracle to behold. If people oppose or challenge you, consider it blessing to be unraveled. Learn to laugh, and stop taking things so seriously. I have grown to believe what Henri Nouwen taught. We are not what we have, or what people say about us. These are lies. We are children of God, infinitely loved by the one who crafted us, made new by the love of Christ, and shaped by a continual outpouring of grace. Our neighbor is made in the image of God, too, even if they drive us crazy. These truths changed my life.

I hope you will take time to attend to your grief meaningfully so that you can move into a new chapter of your life with a restored joy. Refuse to walk through grief without meaning. Look for holy moments and know that, somehow, I am sharing them with you. Live life and know that you were loved by me.

Steve West
July 8, 2009

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Lifting Up Our Souls to What is False

Pictured: "Weighing the Soul", 1875

I have been reading Psalm 24 this week about who shall ascend to God's "holy place." For me, this is the place of Christ's presence, the thin places in creation where we can touch and be touched by God's grace. It says "those who have clean hands (a matter of outward ritual) and pure hearts (a matter of inward love), who do not lift up their souls to what is false."

I wonder how often we in modern America lift up our souls (or shall I say "inspire ourselves") to what is false. We spend money and time on self-help, the latest techniques, and easy steps for a happy life. We dabble with spirituality as if it were a buffet spread for our choosing what we like and don't like. We so easily integrate cultural values into our faith, which leaves us with a false sense of who we are. We buy into the assumptions that we are what we have, we are what we know, and we are what people say about us. And we recreate Christianity in our own image.

"Lord, help us to be a people who draw our identity from the silence of God. We are your beloved children. We are created, redeemed, and sustained by the breath of your Spirit. Everything else we assume ourselves to be is a lie. Forgive us, we pray, and free us for joyful obedience through Jesus Christ our Lord."