How good and pleasant it is

How good and pleasant it is when brothers and sisters come together in unity,
Giving thanks for one another, making new treasures from old memories.
May I remember this day when my brokenness surfaces again,
When I ought to know better but don't.
May I remember this day when my brother, my sister, disappoint me.
May I be patient as you are, O God, shining the light of truth and grace on our messy mix,
Good and evil jumbled together.
O God, who will receive whatever harvest we do yield,
And cast into the fire whatever thorns have choked us,
Give me wisdom to see and be like you today.

Praying the Psalms

I didn't take naturally to the Psalms. They are poetry, and I'm a prose kind of guy. Logic and reason -- left to myself I'll head for Paul's epistles time after time.

Plus being poetry, they are kind of raw. Lord, I'm all alone here, why aren't you doing anything to help? My enemy is really bad, and I've been good. Make his kids into homeless orphans.

But in the last few years, I realize how much I need the rawness. I am pretty emotional too, I just hide it. Angry and upset? Don't express it, maybe it will go away. While not acting out my negative emotions is a valuable skill in social life, pretending they aren't there when I'm alone with God is not. God has used the Psalms to teach me when I pray to say what's on my heart, not what I believe should be on my heart. Because when I express my heart to God, he helps calm me much more than pretending I don't really feel that way can calm me.

And the Psalms, although raw and honest, are not just ranting.  They can go from "Lord, don't you care that I'm all alone here," to "You are the great one we all hope for" in just one or two verses. (See Psalm 22:1-3).

When I'm feeling something that isn't right, pretending I don't feel it doesn't help much.
Lecturing myself why I shouldn't feel it is only slightly better.
Laying it before God and saying "help me with this feeling" works much better.

Running to win is a good thing

God must like "it's not quite so simple" moments. He makes so many of them. I had another one today.

Saturday I quoted Ann Voskamp --
What you really wanted is to be extraordinarily, obviously, good at this. At this mothering thing. You wanted to be the best at this. You wanted to take the podium and gold medal in mothering — not take a million timeouts behind some locked bathroom door, turn on the water so no one hears you sobbing at what a mess this whole shebang is, and how you’d like to run away. 
This summed up what I feel so often -- I want to win the prize, to be the best, to be honored and acclaimed. Obviously pride -- I'm not the hero, God is. I should lay aside mydesire to be the center and graciously take my humble place wherever he puts me, acknowledging I need his help.

Then this morning I start thinking, "But wait. Doesn't Paul say we should run to win the prize?" I go looking and I find the reference, 1 Corinthians 9:24. What is he saying? In the beginning of the chapter he defends his rights as an apostle, and adds that even though he preaches the gospel without charge, he is not obligated to preach without charging. He is obligated to preach, but he supports himself preaching as a gift. Then he says although he is free, he makes himself a slave to many, to win as many as possible. He works hard at addressing different people in different ways to maximize his impact. This is when he says only one runner wins the prize, and we should be the one who runs to win.

"But wait, Paul," I want to say. "Haven't you read about the New Covenant, how our competency is not in ourselves but comes from God, how we have this treasure in earthen vessels, how our hope is not in ourselves but Christ in us?" Not only has Paul read that, he wrote that. So running to win the prize doesn't mean going back to us being the hero of our story. It has to mean training and working hard at recognizing God in us, highlighting the treasure, not the earthen vessel, reminding ourselves again and again we hope in him, not in ourselves.

So let us train and run in this course of honoring God in what he does in us and through us, celebrating what he has made of us and makes of us rather than who we are in ourselves.

The Gospel for Mother's Day

I do follow popular blogger Ann Voskamp, despite being well outside her target demographic. She wrote a good one this morning: What every mother can do for herself this Mother's Day. She exposes the dilemma of a mother afraid she hasn't been good enough:
What you really wanted is to be extraordinarily, obviously, good at this. At this mothering thing. You wanted to be the best at this. You wanted to take the podium and gold medal in mothering — not take a million timeouts behind some locked bathroom door, turn on the water so no one hears you sobbing at what a mess this whole shebang is, and how you’d like to run away.
Yes, that is what  I want, to take the podium and gold medal in what I do, to be the best and most famous. Why? Pride. I want to be the hero of my story. That's what led to Adam and Eve's fall.

But there is also brokenness -- because of Adam and Eve's fall, because we don't innately know God like we should, we miss knowing how much he is willing and able to be the hero of our story, so we think it is up to us. If I don't do it, who will. 

But the Gospel says we are not on our own. We have all fallen short, don't measure up, failed at being great and legendary and one of a kind. Like Paul wrote,
"all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God," (Rom 3:23)
But that's not all -- there's more to God's story: "all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus." (Rom 3:24). We are justified, made adequate, redeemed, invited into a life where God makes so much more of us than we can make of ourselves.

As Ann V says:
What every mother wants, her most unspoken need —  is a truckload of Grace.
Grace that buries her fears that her faith wasn’t enough, and that her faults were too many.
Grace that washes her dirty wounds and wounds the devil’s lies.
Grace that says she doesn’t have to try to measure up to anyone else because Jesus came down — and He measures her as good enough, as worthy enough, as loved more than enough.
Same for us, gentlemen: God offers grace to bury our fears that we aren't enough, can't be tough and strong enough, in control enough to make it all work. God offers capacity when we don't have capacity enough, God offers strength for our weakness.

My prayers

It dawned on me today that God might find my prayer life rather annoying. He invites me to come because he loves me and knows I need his inspiration, comfort and strength. But often I go to God thinking I only need him because of this sudden problem in my life. If he would just fix that, I'd be happy and go back to not needing him more. Cause I basically have "normal life" under control, it is only these crises when I need his help.
How shortsighted my heart is. Open my eyes, Lord, to see your great willingness for me to draw near, and my great need to draw near.

The moon

Shining silvery light in our darkness. In itself sterile rock, but reflecting solar glory to us when the sun is hidden from view. The moon is like a parable of the spiritual life -- can we faithfully reflect God's light and love around us? 

Isaiah calls us to shine his light
“Arise, shine, for your light has come,
    and the glory of the Lord rises upon you.
See, darkness covers the earth
    and thick darkness is over the peoples,
but the Lord rises upon you
    and his glory appears over you.
Nations will come to your light,
    and kings to the brightness of your dawn."

Paul also suggests the same image in 2 Corinthians 3:18 
    "And we all, who with unveiled faces contemplate the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his image with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit."