"Do not despise the day of small beginnings..." -Zechariah 4:10
Jesus spent a lot of time making much of the mundane, seeing significance in the smallest offering, deriving great meaning from diminutive details...
He overlooked fortunes, instead focusing on the widow's mite; He considered a few loaves and fishes a viable option for the feeding of five thousand; He was impressed not by mighty trees, but by the mustard seeds they sprouted from.
When His disciples needed their idea of Heaven challenged, He placed before them a child. At the height of His popularity, He dined with the lowest of the low, Zaccheus, a man as short on scruples as he was in stature.
And when mankind needed a savior, He came as a servant.
So often I want to do grandiose things for God. Occasionally I want grandiose things for myself. But in Jesus' economy, the base things are the big things: the poor are rich; the weak are strong; we serve a God whose greatest achievement is marked not by some plaque hanging on a wall, but by His Son, hanging on a cross...
...This precious paradigm, this titanic truth, seeps into my sense of balance and turns it on it's ear. I find myself scandalized and at the same time set free; or at least a bit more free; like a dimmer switch, being slowly turned up, letting in more light,
Throughout the New Testament, Jesus often taught in parables. There were so many lessons surrounding his disciples in the every day stuff of life, there for the teaching. There were lessons about generosity and jealousy, forgiveness and freedom, hypocrisy and Heaven, the list went on and on, and could've gone further.
Jesus' followers called Him Rabbi. This was no trite title or term of endearment. To be called Rabbi was to be labeled a master teacher, one qualified to expound on Jewish law. As the Rabbi of rabbis, Jesus could've used lofty linguistics, pretentious prose, and esoteric embellishment to make his point, but he didn't. The King of kings and the Lord of lords, this Rabbi of rabbis chose the humble elements of our existence to expound on Heavenly truths, the impoverished portent of base things that bore His image.
He used bread and beggars, flowers and fields, birds of the air and fruit on the trees. He chose these things, not only because they were within his demographic's grasp, but because they would prove to be perennial and pertinent examples throughout the centuries, through to twenty ten and beyond. The lessons were far-reaching, they had to be, because He didn't just come to reach the twelve, He came to reach you and me.
And I, brethren, when I came to you, did not come with excellence of speech or of wisdom declaring to you the testimony of God. For I determined not to know anything among you except Jesus Christ and Him crucified. I was with you in weakness, in fear, and in much trembling. And my speech and my preaching were not with persuasive words of human wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, that your faith should not be in the wisdom of men but in the power of God.
My friend, Dan Denardo of D2 Photography, mentioned something in passing to me the other day...
...The importance of
"Positive Forward Momentum"...
His words gave me pause...I found myself reading and re-reading them, and then following Ann Lamott's rule of thumb -
"Pay attention when your soul leans forward to listen."
Sometimes we are waiting for God to do something BIG in our lives. We all have a Red Sea that we want God to address. We cry out to him as the psalmist did in time past,
"How long, Oh Lord?"...
It occurs to me that God might ask us the same question regarding our stagnation...
"How long will you refuse to humble yourselves before me" (Exodus 10:3)..."How long will you refuse to keep my commands and my instructions?" (Exodus 16:28)..."How long will you treat me with contempt? How long will you refuse to believe in me, in spite of all the miraculous signs I have performed among you?" (Numbers 14:11)..."How long will you wait before you begin to take possession of the land that the LORD, the God of your fathers, has given you?" (Joshua 18:13)..."How long will you mourn?" (1 Samuel 16:1)...
"How long will you waver?" (1 Kings 18:21)
Still we question Him, and still His longsuffering kindness condescends to answer...
...the same answer God gave to Moses as he stood before his Red Sea...
"Why do you cry to Me? Tell the children of Israel to GO FORWARD."*
Moses' deference to God's directive precipitated a great rescue, an unprecidented redemption, a deliverance of miraculous magnitude.
Without a doubt there are seasons of stillness...but there are also times, as Paul prescribed in Philippians 3:13, to reach forward to the things which are ahead...
In times of indecision and inertia in my life, my mom use to tell me, "When you don't know what to do, do the next thing, even if the next thing is just walking the dog or doing the dishes."
Positive Forward Momentum
The smallest effort does not escape heaven's attention.
As we take little steps, God gives ground to step on.
As we move forward in faith, God's faithfulness becomes our footing.
"So the children of Israel went forward into the midst of the sea on the dry ground, and the waters were a wall to them on their right hand and on their left." -Exodus 14:22
"Jesus entered the temple area and drove out all who were buying and selling there. He overturned the tables of the money changers and the benches of those selling doves. "It is written," he said to them, " 'My house will be called a house of prayer,' but you are making it a 'den of robbers."
I read this passage and my inner pharisee nods in holier-than-thou approval at the unfolding events; perhaps I'm not alone in my affirmation of Christ's actions?
Let's fast forward two thousand years...If this scenario recurred in modernity, replaying in our "temples" of today, be it First Baptist, First Presbyterian, First Church of the Blessed Mother, what have you, would we be as nonchalant with our endorsement of such extreme measures? Perhaps our heads are still bobbing even as we bring this passage a little closer to home.
But what if, at the heart of the matter and much more to the point, such a purging took place in us? My eyes that previously looked on in self-righteous satisfaction, in ambivalent assent, are suddenly averted as this possibility is brought very close to home indeed.
I find myself squirming a bit as the reminder of 1 Corinthians 6:19 surfaces on the scene:
"Do you not know that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own."
What tables in this temple would be upended if the High Priest, Jesus Himself, were so inclined? Where am I selling out and misrepresenting the heart of Holy God? How do I rob people of His presence? What in me sullies his Spirit?
Suddenly the speck in the money changers' eye becomes small as the log in my own looms...
And I see with new eyes - my log not withstanding - the profundity of David's prayer, "Create in me a clean heart and renew a right spirit within me."* I realize that it is an invitation for Jesus to do just that...to drive out the dross that divides my attention and displaces His deity, to dismantle all that distracts others from the message of Messiah, to pinpoint and purge hypocrisy that hampers His healing in my own and others' lives. To cleanse me from all that clouds our place of precious communion.
My previously pompous posture is deflated to one of deference toward God, who mercifully makes His home in me, and with a humble heart I pray,
Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me.
Nine days into the New Year and gotta say the water feels fine!
I have a tendency toward "holding my breath" though, waiting for the "other shoe to drop" (even though the first shoe has yet to take the plunge). I've whittled away hours waiting for the bottom to fall out of things, probably due to the fact that I've lost a few "bottoms" along the way...
So I've decided in Twenty Ten toBreathe.
To deeply inhale the beauty that bathes my life,
To exhale in expectation of God's ongoing grace and mercy.
I "de-Christmased" my house this weekend...The task was monumental, but it's done now, not a shred of red or green in sight, quite the catharsis! It was lovely to have and lovely to let go of.
It is January, the quintessentially quiet month; this halcyon hush, so welcome after the hub-bub of the holidays, has settled over my home like a big cozy comforter. The backdrop of Vivaldi has replaced the various Christmas carols that played circuitously on my CD player, the new year has registered temperatures far below freezing for at least part of every day, lending to the lull of the season, and, for the first time in a longggg time, my event calendar is completely empty.
Ah, sweet serenity.
Such a perfect way to spend the nighttime of the year....at rest. The stillness afforded us during this nocturn is such a gift, it being conducive to such calm, such centeredness, creating space to seek God, as the Magi did so long ago.
The esoteric feast day of Epiphany celebrated every January sixth by some, bookmarks this event. It is, in a word, the Divine "olly olly in free", God humbly choosing a form in which He could be found by those searching for Him. The Great Reveal. God made man in the Person of Jesus Christ.
In Isaiah 55:6, we are encouraged to seek God while He may be found. The invitation to the incarnation of Immanuel - to us and through us - does not end with the close of Christmas, but is extended to seekers everywhere still.
Two Thousand Ten - or "Twenty Ten" as I'm told we're to call it - is steadied on the easel of January 1st, pristine and poised in it's infancy, waiting to be painted upon.
There it sits, the New Year, the quintessential clean slate, the fresco of our future unfolding before us, a white washed would-be work of art...
And here am I, sitting at my computer, my "canvas", such as it is, hoping to make a meaningful contribution to this microcosmic masterpiece...So far a few scribbles, some rough ideas is all I have to offer, a few loaves and fishes, as it were...But fishes in His hands feed multitudes; loaves broken and blessed become Bread of Life.
So I quietly breathe a prayer, asking God, the fountainhead of our future, to further the completion of this work He's begun, to add His perspective to my paltry beginnings, sparse starts being His specialty.
He makes much of the meager alms we offer, and blesses these tiny brushstrokes, till one day, maybe a year from now, we'll look back and see a canvas full of color, and we'll be three hundred and sixty five days closer to a clearer picture of Christ.
I look forward to collaborating with you all as we join Him in His ongoing Creation.
I ran across this post of mine from a few months back and thought my readers wouldn't mind a little re-run, as I thought it so appropos for New Years Day and the transition this time marks. I truly hope it's meaningful to you again, or maybe for the first time. Happy New Year, Everyone...
Seasons do eventually change no matter how endless things may feel, whether we desperately want things to stay the same or whether we're waiting with bated breath for something new...It is the nature of things, the way of life, ever evolving...
Sometimes we defy the transition so stubbornly, like a toddler throwing a tantrum when her parents insist on throwing out some favored but now ill-fitting garment, with no understanding that something newer, better, and much more comfortable is in the making and forthcoming. With that same futility and short-sightedness we hold on to bygone seasons with a mental vicegrip even after the season has grown old or stale or has ended all together, but, as my Mom use to say, "it doesn't matter if you wear your galoshes in the Summer, Honey, it isn't gonna make the Spring stay." We need to trust that as much as we loved the garment of the time gone by, however familiar and comfortable it was, there is something better in the making. Something that will fit our evolving life and that will foster further growth.
Of necessity the prior seasons that coddled us and were conducive to our growth must fall away to make possible the new life. But leaving these confines is not always easy, the space that felt so manageable, so secure, like a butterfly's cocoon. The transition, while natural, can be traumatic. It's so easy to feel disillusioned during these segues. We are uprooted from the old, but not quite yet rooted in the new. We are waiting to find our footing and even when we finally do, the new land can feel so foreign and we go through nothing less than culture-shock as we venture forward. New beginnings are rarely wrapped up pretty with a bow on top, but rather tend to be trademarked by screaming babies, shattered seeds, civil wars and the like.
During a devastating time of agonizing uncertainty in author Elisabeth Elliot's life, she recorded an instance where, completely distraught and disoriented, not knowing which way was up, she ran out to her back yard, sunk onto her knees and cried out to God for answers...The answer came...in the form of an acorn.
Her eyes fell on the little seed beneath her and the words that flooded her mind were these...
"When the acorn falls and is buried, all it knows is the falling and the darkness and the dying; it has no idea of the oak tree that's going to come out of it's life. If it did, the death would seem insignificant, and instead of fear there would be joyful abandonment into My plan. Look at the acorn and trust Me."
Perhaps it's time to let go of the crumbling scaffolding of past seasons...allow what has died to be buried, so that new life can come, so that we can see when it comes...