Saturday, July 26, 2008

Time Away

The wood piece on our cabin wall spoke to me tonight, begging both to be seen through the eye of my camera and inscribed on my mind and heart. There is indeed a season for everything, and now for my wife and me it is time away. Not away from life, for where can one go away from that anymore than one can go away from God (Psalm 139)? Time away ought rather to be seen as time to renew one’s life, i.e. to step forward into reflection and rest even while stepping back awhile from routines and schedules. The latter, if never left, can bind—even harden—one’s spirit and choke not only one’s creative energy but his or her vitality as well.

The art piece is instructive. Get outside yourself, your study and home and let the rays of the sun permeate your being. Look at the birds of the air that neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, yet your heavenly Father feeds them. And consider the lilies of the field that neither toil nor spin, yet even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. And do not worry about tomorrow for tomorrow will bring worries of its own. Today’s trouble is enough for today (Matthew 6:25-34). Take time away!

I live too much in chronos, clock time, chronologically So do you. Take time away to seek kairos, purposeful time--the perspective we all need to live closer to God and his will. One needn’t leave home to take time away, but it helps. Thoreau found time in the solitude of his home by Walden Pond. What matters is allowing some space and time to see yourself in larger perspective—to get beyond what you have achieved and experienced and thus begin to grasp life’s fuller dimensions. An anthem we once sang in the North Park (Chicago) Church choir when I was a teenager addresses the challenge, which always begins with inner yearning:

Build thee more stately mansions, O my soul,
while the swift seasons roll.
Leave thy low-vaulted past.
Let each new temple nobler than the last
get thee to heav’n with a dome more vast
till thou at length art free,
leaving thine outgrown shell by life’s unresting sea.

Day two away for us has been a good day. May its blessings increase until it is time again to return, as we must--yet different, deeper and richer, as we long to be.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Ever Thought of Writing a Letter to God?

It might seem a strange idea, given the fact that even before a word is on your tongue God knows it completely (Psalm 139:4). Yet don’t you suppose that it might delight him to get a letter from you even so? On this Sunday evening I am delighted to share with you one such letter, written by my father years ago while looking out over the lake below with the sun setting on another day of rest for him at our summer cabin in Wisconsin. I have a whole file of such letters, written in his own hand, and I hope in the future to publish more of them, perhaps under a separate link on this website, as an encouragement to consider writing God yourself. It’s what the psalmist did, out of all the moods of his life. Why not you?

Dear God,

Why did you rest on the seventh day? Were you tired? That question makes me laugh. I have seen you at work too long to believe that. I have seen too many dawns break and too many sunsets, and too many winters and springs come and go, too many tides rise and fall, without any signs of weariness to believe that you needed to rest.

Had you finished your work? Is that why you rested? Your Son, when he was here, said you were still working as he was. That has always comforted me because we are in desperate need of your perfect strength. I suspect that you rested because you wanted us to rest. You sat down in your strength so that we might sit down in our weakness, so that you might restore our strength again.

Help us, dear God, to sit down beside you, or by the side of your son where he sits, weary by Jacob's well, a further expression of your accommodation to our weariness that you tasted … yourself in order still better to understand us. Help us, however, not merely to sit, but to enjoy you and thus replenish our lives. Forgive us that we miss our rest as if we did not trust you to keep on working and finally bring us into your kingdom.

Eric G. Hawkinson (1896-1984) Letter to God (unpublished)
Former Dean, North Park Theological Seminary

Saturday, July 12, 2008

What Defines You?

Klyne Snodgrass's massive new volume, just released, called Stories with Intent: A Comprehensive Guide to the Parables of Jesus (Eerdmans, 2008), represents not only a lifetime of scholarly work as Professor of New Testament at North Park Theological Seminary and beyond, but a wonderful and practical witness to his focus in scholarship on pastoral training and ministry.

In preparing, for example, to preach on the Parable of the Sower from Matthew 13 tomorrow, digging over days now into all the commentary he supplies on its background and various interpretations of it over time has been both thought provoking and useful. At their heart, Snodgrass claims, the parables are indeed Stories with Intent, i.e. stories intended to address life as we know it and seek our obedience in living it out according to God's will.

One sentence in particular sent me deeper into my own reflections on how to address this parable while addressing others tomorrow. "To be a disciple of the kingdom," he has written, "means hearing and remaining focused on the message of the kingdom in such a way that one is defined by it" (p 175). In other words, the seed of the word of God is not something we are to define in the soil of life belonging to us. Our role is no more than simply to receive and keep receiving it until it begins to define us. Seed and soil alike are God's, and only those who both prepare for and tend them by the power and energy of his Spirit can really call themselves his disciples. "The key to spiritual formation," Snodgrass further says, "is the willingness to listen, the practice of the discipline of listening, and responding appropriately to the received word."

Such living out of God's word is clearly a life-long process, and progress in that process demands openness on our part, depth of mind and heart, a focused discipline that tends daily to tender shoots that grow both down and up in us from the divine seed and its impulses within. But it is crucial that we do not think of what results from that process as our doing. We do not end up defining the seed. The seed, in the process of our receiving and caring for it shapes and defines us.

The sobering truth of this parable is that mathematically the chances are three to one against our truly hearing and receiving God's word. But the good news is that all who do receive and obey it soon find themselves bringing forth the fruit it promises--some a hundred fold, some sixty, and some thirty.

Perhaps if we spent less time and energy trying so hard to understand and define the word and more time just making room for and allowing it to define us we would find our daily walk more satisfying and fruitful. He who has ears to hear, let him hear. And she who has eyes to see, let her see.