The dog ate the communion bread (or, God is enough.)

I went to church on a Saturday morning to meet a group of folks who wanted me to offer communion to their group. The first person I saw was one of the leaders. She drove right up next to me in the parking lot, rolled down her window, and said, “The dog ate the communion bread.” I thought she was joking, but she looked at me with dead seriousness and said, “No, really. How can a miniature dachshund need that much communion bread?”

What a powerful analogy for what happens to so many people in this world. Good people, intelligent people who somewhere along the way got hurt by the church, or found such hypocrisy among Christians that they couldn’t see the point of it. It is as if the dog has eaten their communion bread. It is as if Satan or life or fallen human beings or something else in the world has stolen their right to be in communion with God. The terrible result for too many of us is that we no longer trust God. We are suspicious that maybe he does not have our best interests at heart. We secretly wonder if given an inch, God would try to make us walk a mile we don’t want to walk.

After all, if God is so good, why is life so hard?enough-pic

This question baits the enemy of our souls. If he can get us to suspect God’s motives, he can yank us right down into misery and anger. All the anger, fear and loneliness we feel has a single root cause. It grows out of a basic distrust in God — in his power to provide, in his sovereignty, in his desire to do for us.

The antidote is in the names of God. We discover in his names the character of the One worthy of our trust. Yahweh: “I Am.” Emmanuel: “God With Us.”

Figuring out who God is is fundamental to how we relate to him. Thomas Merton writes: “Whether you understand it or not, God loves you, is present in you, lives in you, dwells in you, calls you, saves you and offers you an understanding and compassion which are like nothing you have ever found in a book or heard in a sermon.”

Jeremiah Smith says there is nothing more important, no higher priority in your life, than for you to figure out who God is. Knowing God affects everything else in your life. It affects your choices, your relationships, your outlook, everything.

The name El Shaddai literally means, “God Almighty,” but the Hebrew sages often translated this name as a statement from God: “I said to the world, enough.” This name of God is a precious promise to his children: “In the face of your great need, I am enough.”

That truth ought to be life-changing. The same God who brought you out of slavery to sin, who defeated the enemy of your soul, who made hope bigger than death, is enough. The same God who broke into our world through a virgin’s birth has power enough to be in the midst of your greatest struggles, defeating your enemies, reframing and redeeming everything. Because God is enough, nothing is lost in his economy.

To know God is the great quest. I believe that quest begins with the name that assures us God is enough. Whatever our sin, brokenness, problems, whatever else in our lives vies for our attention, God is enough.

El Shaddai. Enough.

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You get what you look for (a primer on spiritual signs)

The gate of heaven is everywhere. – Thomas Merton

The story of God in the book of Mark ends with a one-liner that sums up the entire the book of Acts:  “They went out and preached everywhere, while the Lord worked with them and confirmed the message by accompanying signs” (Mk 16:20).

This in a nutshell is the story of the first-century church. People who believed in Jesus talked about him while Jesus worked on the people who believed, and God confirmed what was happening with signs that signaled the presence and direction in which he was headed.

It is a glorious dance. Witness. Sanctification. Signs. This is the pattern of productive discipleship.

What I learn from our first-century ancestors is that signs put us into the flow of God’s plan. The signs were not the message. They signaled the presence and direction of God and pointed people toward Kingdom work. They set followers on a course to do the will of the Father.

Signs, prophetic visions and dreams are ways God reveals his already-here presence.

Signs are not meant to tickle our spiritual fancy. They are not a conjuring up of God or even a way to change reality (though our openness to them certainly affects our direction). Signs show up where God is already at work. Their purpose is to extend faith, extend truth, or extend reach. As Henry Blackaby might say, signs are about looking for where God is at work so we can join him, about seeing past the temporal to something greater.

Are signs only for really spiritual people and messiahs? Not all all.

God shows things to people he loves and God loves us; therefore, he is likely to show us things so we will be encouraged to move more intentionally into the flow of his will. “Repent and believe, for the kingdom of God has come near,” Jesus said (Mk 1:15). “Do you have eyes but fail to see or ears but fail to hear?” (Mk 8:18)

In other words, if you are blind to signs of God’s presence, the problem is on the user-end of the equation. Signs of God’s in-breaking Kingdom are all around us, though most of us don’t bother developing the kind of eyes that see them. People who have no room for the supernatural in their lives may even be offended by the thought that God reveals himself in the world. But signs are not meant to offend and prophetic sight is not a fringe notion for the “weird ones.” It is central to the work of God. This is about getting a different way of looking at the world — a way that sees beyond the temporal into the eternal.

It is about seeing the world from the Kingdom down, rather than from the ground up. The kingdom is near; the gate of heaven is everywhere. Elisha discovered it on a hill as the angels surrounded the army that surrounded him. Jacob discovered it on a ladder climbed by angels.

“It is not too difficult for you or beyond your reach,” Moses told the people of Israel (Dt 30:11-14). “It is not up in Heaven, so that you have to ask, ‘Who will ascend to Heaven and get it for us? Nor is it beyond the sea, so that you have to ask, ‘Who will cross the sea and get it and proclaim it to us to we may obey it?’ No,” Moses writes, “the word is very near you; it is in your mouth and in your heart.” Or as Jesus said (Luke 17:21), “The Kingdom of God is not something to go searching for. It is in your midst” (or within you, or among you).

In Luke, chapter nine, there is a line that grabs my imagination and stirs me to look for that gate. Jesus has just been talking with his followers about the connection between his glory and our faith, and now he is heading up a mountain to pray with Peter, James and John. As he is praying, the appearance of his face changes and his clothes become as bright as a flash of lightning. Two men, Moses and Elijah, appear in glorious splendor to talk with Jesus. They talk about his departure from this earth, among other things. Peter, James and John are sleepy but the story says that “when they became fully awake, they saw his glory” (Lk 9:32).

When they became fully awake, they saw his glory.”

I am both exposed and educated by that line. I recognize myself in the state of Jesus’ disciples. What must I be missing, because I am not fully awake? If I am not seeing God’s glory — if I am not seeing signs of in-breaking glory — is it because God’s glory is absent, or is it because (spiritually speaking) I am trodding through life half asleep?

Do you spend a lot of time doing a lot of really good things that may not at all be related to your God-given purpose? Are you so busy that you can’t see the eternal for the clutter of the good? Perhaps the answer is in praying for eyes to see what God has placed right in front of you.

The gate of heaven is everywhere. Ours is to live as if that is true.

 

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The Jesus Prayer and the Cure for Arrogance

Malcolm Gladwell has written a book called Blink, about the thousand decisions we make every day in the smallest slices of time — choices we make in split-seconds during a conversation — that determine how we respond to life at the subconscious level.Gladwell interviewed one psychologist who has made a study of watching couples in conversation.

This guy has become so adept at watching their non-verbal communication that he can tell with incredible accuracy how likely they are to divorce after just a few minutes of watching them talk. His point is that how we react to other people in the briefest moments (even non-verbally) says a lot about what’s beneath the surface.This psychologist has boiled hundreds of facial expressions down to four major categories. He calls them the Four Horsemen: defensiveness, stonewalling, criticism and contempt. And he says the real killer among those four is contempt.

“You’d think criticism would be the worst, because it maligns character,” he says. “But contempt is worse, because it puts one person above another. It’s when we look down on another person that we do the most damage.” And it is so damaging, the psychologist says, that it affects our immune system.Contempt is a killer. No wonder the enemy of our souls has made a career out of getting us to go there. He wants us to make pecking orders. To make ourselves better than others. The enemy has made quite a career out of doing nothing more than keeping your heart hard toward another human being. And it is brilliant, really. He can make it slice both ways, so we feel chronically inadequate while we’re tearing others down so they never feel good enough, either.

That’s the tactic of the enemy of our souls.

The remedy, according to Jesus, is to keep our eyes on our own work. He told a story about it to emphasize the point (Mt. 18:9-14). When a religious leader and a tax collector happened to be praying at the same time in the temple one day, the contrast was stark. The religious leader spent his time feeling good about his position somewhere above the other guy. The tax collector spent his words confessing his own sins.

Out of the tax collector’s example has come one of the most repeated prayers in the world: “God, be merciful to me, a sinner.” Orthodox believers have fleshed it out in New Testament terms: “Lord Jesus Christ, son of the Living God, have mercy on me, a sinner.” It is often called “the prayer of the heart.”

This is the prayer of holiness and a cure for both contempt and arrogance. I spent most of my seminary years praying this prayer daily and found that after a thousand repetitions I still didn’t come to the end of it. I found in it both a profound confession of faith and a pathway to humility. I found my humanity and God’s holiness in this prayer. Thomas Merton recommended praying it daily, meditating on each phrase separately so as to plumb its depths.

Lord Jesus Christ, son of the Living God, have mercy on me, a sinner.

If you are in need of a fresh discipline for a new year, try praying the Jesus Prayer daily. Let it do its work of sanctification in your spirit as you connect with saints through the ages who have prayed these words earnestly. Let it bring your home to yourself, to your own work, to your own need for the One whose mercy is worth the cry of your heart.

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Enough.

I went to church on a Saturday morning to meet a group of folks who wanted me to offer communion to their group.  The first person I saw was one of the leaders. She drove right up next to me in the parking lot, rolled down her window, and said, “The dog ate the communion bread.”  I thought she was joking, but she looked at me with dead seriousness and said, “No, really.  How can a miniature dachshund need that much communion bread?”

What a powerful analogy for what has happened to so many people in this world.  So many people I know are such good people, such intelligent people, but somewhere along the way, something happened.  Either they got hurt by the church, or they found such hypocrisy among Christians that they couldn’t see the point of it.  It is as if the dog has eaten their communion bread. Its as if Satan, or life, or fallen human beings – the world has stolen their right to be in communion with God.  And the terrible result for too many of us is that we no longer trust God.  We are suspicious that maybe he does not have our best interests at heart.  We secretly wonder if, given an inch, God would try to make us walk a mile we don’t want to walk.

After all, if God is so good, why is life so hard?elohim

This question baits the enemy of our souls.  If he can get us to suspect God’s motives, he can yank us right down into misery and anger.  All the anger, fear and loneliness we feel has a single root cause.  It grows out of a basic distrust in God — in his power to provide, in his sovereignty, in his desire to do for us.

The antidote is in the names of God.  We discover in his names the character of the One worthy of our trust.  Yahweh:  “I Am.”  Emmanuel:  “God With Us.”

Figuring out who God is is fundamental to how we relate to him.  Thomas Merton says: “Whether you understand it or not, God loves you, is present in you, lives in you, dwells in you, calls you, saves you and offers you an understanding and compassion which are like nothing you have ever found in a book or heard in a sermon.”

Jeremiah Smith says this: There is nothing more important, no higher priority in your life, than for you to figure out who God is. It affects everything else in your life. You choose how to approach situations in your life based on your understanding of who God is and what He’s like.

In the quest to know him, where do we begin?  I believe we begin where the Bible does, with the name that assures us God is enough.  Whatever our sin, brokenness, problems, whatever else in our lives vies for our attention, God is enough.

Elohim.  Enough.

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