Showing posts from January, 2011

Surrendering to God's love (Nouwen's Prodigal Son), post 3

For now, this is my final post on Nouwen's Prodigal Son and the journey toward God...
In the Prodigal Son, Nouwen articulates what the spiritual masters of the Christian tradition have been saying for centuries. We are not in complete control of our own spiritual transformation. There are certain things we can do -- like cutting out certain sins and taking up constructive disciplines like praying and serving and internalizing the Scriptures. But there is a hunger deep within us to live in close communion with God -- to know his heart and be caught up in his love for us and the whole world. Sometimes God allows us to visit this paradise, and we long to live there. But we cannot simply pack up our things and relocate. God has to bring us there. We have to surrender to a journey we cannot control or "make happen."
Here is how Nouwen describes the critical juncture in his journey when he moved into a deeper relationship of surrender to God... Each little step toward the center…

Two lessons from Jesus on prayer

As disciples of Jesus, we want to learn from what he did, especially when it comes to prayer. Today I offer a couple of quick observations about Mark 1:35. It's one of the more famous verses in Mark's Gospel, because it describes Jesus stealing away in the pre-dawn hours to go pray. The verse says,

"And having risen early in the morning while it was still dark, Jesus went out and went away to a deserted place, and there he prayed." (My translation.)
Some background... In Capernaum (or any of the other towns along the Sea of Galilee), it would have been impossible for Jesus to find any place to be alone. He was instantly famous because he had healed so many people the day before. In addition, people lived in very close proximity to one another, and families shared small spaces. Hence the need to go outside the town to find a place to be alone. Also, laborers started getting up at sunrise to start their work days. Hence the need to get up while it was still dark. 
Lesson …

On churches and strategic planning

Craig Groeschel, always a refreshing voice, wrote a post a while back on The Death of the Five-Year Plan. After years of trying to construct and live off of strategic plans for his church, it sounds like he is changing horses. He writes in part, "We are creating margin and planning to respond quickly to ideas that we don't yet have. Speed, agility, flexibility, and financial margin are far better than a detailed road map. We are in the ready position. Instead of asking God to bless our carefully crafted plans, we're trying to be prepared to move when he speaks and guides."

I really like where Groeschel is going. I am currently preaching a series at Sanctuary on being a Fit and Ready church. I think I have given up trying to construct a vision from the conventional methods. It felt contrived and man-made (probably because it was). I have gravitated toward readiness, prayer, and listening for the story God seems to be wanting to tell through our church. This does involv…

Surrendering to God's love (Nouwen's Prodigal Son), post 2

More on Nouwen's Prodigal Son and the journey toward God...
Nouwen made a well-known, life-changing transition from teaching at Harvard to caring for souls at the Daybreak L'Arche community for the mentally disabled. During that same transitional period, he had a deep encounter with Rembrandt's painting of the Prodigal Son. The painting and the parable spoke deeply to Nouwen, and they became touchstones for his personal journey with God. He encountered many trials and difficulties during those years, but the end result was that he grew into an immersion in God's love that he had only glimpsed before. Maybe it would be like visiting a lush paradise and describing it to others, and then later enduring an extremely difficult trek to make your home there. Nouwen wrote Prodigal Son after that land became his primary residence. He was still prone to wander, but it had been settled for him. His heart had found its home with God.

As someone who has hungered for many years to li…

Surrendering to God's love (Nouwen's Prodigal Son), post 1

Through December and the first part of January, my companion has been Henri Nouwen's book The Return of the Prodigal Son. I have been wanting to read this book for years, but it waited until its time. Some books have a time. You know what I mean? Some books drop into your life to say exactly what you need to hear precisely when you need to hear it. Such is the case with Nouwen's Prodigal Son for me.
The first time through the book, I bonded with the themes Nouwen draws out of Jesus' story of the Prodigal Son: Nouwen can relate to the wayward prodigal and his judgmental older brother, but he feels called to be like their gracious father. That's basically the message of the book. It is a journey through needing God's grace to being a vessel of God's grace. I think we all need to hear that message.
The second time through the book something else has grabbed me. (A few books are worth reading more than once.) I have realized that Nouwen is a kindred spirit. His journ…

On not being worthy of Jesus

This morning I started to read the Gospel of Mark devotionally because I want to spend some weeks seeing Jesus in action through the eyes of Mark. In this season of life I want to see Jesus move in some powerful ways. Mark's Gospel is known for being action-packed, and I look forward to meditating on the many stories of Jesus bringing about salvation in its many aspects. I figure I'll share some of the insights along the way.
Today I didn't even get to Jesus' baptism before I was wowed by something said by John the Baptist. He talks about the greatness of the one who will come after him and says, “I am not worthy even to bend down and untie the straps of his sandals” (Mk 1:7). I have this vivid image in my mind of starting to bend down to untie the straps of Jesus' sandals and halting because I do not even feel like I can do that. What else is there to do but draw away and put one's face to the ground? I am keeping in mind that in Jesus' day, only a slave wo…