Saturday, April 29, 2017

Beauty Draws us Out and Lifts us Up

“He has made everything beautiful in its time.
He has also set eternity in the human heart”
-Ecclesiastes 3:11
Beauty invites us to step out of ourselves. Much of each day, our thoughts are centered on issues in our lives, solving problems, worrying about the future, stressing about this and that. In our fallen nature we are all prone to cave in on ourselves. On an ongoing basis, we need to be freed from such self-focus. We all need to get out of ourselves.
God pours out the grace needed for our deliverance from self-absorption. One key way that God gives us that grace is through beauty. When we see the splendor of a brilliant sunrise on our drive to work in the morning, we are invited to step out of our anxious thoughts of the day. We are welcomed to lay aside our all-too-often obsession regarding the frustrations awaiting us on our job.
In that glimpse of God’s glory, we are shown a bigger picture of reality than our daily grind: the Lord is in control of the universe, and he has jammed it with magnificence!
To behold this scene on the way to work is to step out of my little world and all its petty problems and anxieties. To hold on to the scene throughout the day is to allow my mind to be transformed so that it gains God’s perspective on life. The Lord is in control, he has filled the earth with beauty, and the life that he has given me is pure gift!
After drawing us out of ourselves, beauty draws us upward toward God. Whenever we see beauty, it lifts our hearts. Even if temporarily, we are able to let go of all that weighs on us and pulls us down. It lifts our minds from the mundane, and helps us see a much greater reality.
The great spiritual writer of the early sixth century, Pseudo-Dionysius, describes how God uses beauty and light as natural aids in lifting us up toward him. “Hence, any thinking person realizes that the appearances of beauty are signs of an invisible loveliness,” says Dionysius. “Material lights are images of the outpouring of an immaterial gift of light.”[1]
Beauty is something transcendent, and it draws us toward transcendence. Because all beauty is a reflection of the Creator, when we see the loveliness of creation, it draws us toward God. Ultimately, beauty lifts our spirits to the One who is Uncreated Beauty!
2017 © Glenn E. Myers
This series is Creation Proclaiming God’s Divine Nature, as Romans 1:20 declares, “For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made.”

[1] Celestial Hierarchy, 121C-D, in Pseudo-Dionysius: The Complete Works, translated by Colm Luibheid, Classics of Western Spirituality (New York/Mahwah, NJ: Paulist, 1987), 146.

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Holy Week & Triduum: Participating in Salvation History and Eternity

“I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me.”
-Galatians 2:20
In Holy Week we participate in the event of our Lord’s triumphal entry into Jerusalem, his Last Supper, his Passion and Resurrection. These are not simply past events to be remembered, nor are we simply “reenacting” episodes from Jesus’ life. Rather, they are spiritual realities—eternal realities—in which we are invited to participate.
As we celebrate Palm Sunday and then the three days (Latin: Triduum) from the evening of Holy Thursday to the evening of Easter Sunday, we participate in—indeed, partake of—these central events in Salvation History. 
The Christian life is all about our participating in Christ. Even toward the end of his life, the Apostle Paul prays “I want to know Christ—yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, attaining to the resurrection from the dead” (Philippians 3:10, emphasis added). The New Testament calls us to such participate in—share in—the saving work of God.
During Holy Week we participate in Salvation History. On Palm Sunday we participate in Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem with shouts of Hosanna! Perhaps these were shouts of praise, but “Hosanna” ultimately is a prayer, a cry to God for help: “Save us!” Jesus, of course, will save them and us but in a way far different—are far more painful—than they expected.
On Holy Thursday or Maundy Thursday we participate in the Lord’s Supper. On Good Friday we join Mary and the Apostle John around the cross and mystically share in Jesus’ dying. Beginning with baptism all believers participate in Jesus’ suffering, for we are “baptized into his death,” states Romans 6. “We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life.” Dying to our old fallen nature and rising from the waters that buried that old self, we are called to live every day only for Christ. Along with Paul each of us is invited to say, “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me” (Galatians 2:20). How clear this reality becomes as we enter into that death with our Lord again each Good Friday!
Finally on Easter, we join with all the hosts of heaven as we sing, “Christ the Lord is risen today!” As we do so, we join afresh in the Resurrection. This is not simply a commemoration of the past, nor is it simply looking toward our future resurrection. It is both, but beyond that we truly share with Christ. We participate in this the central event of Salvation History. Moreover we share in eternity as, the last of Charles Wesley declares: “Ours the cross, the grave, the skies!”
© 2017 Glenn E. Myers 

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Lent: Inviting Us to Special Times of Prayer

“When you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.”
            -Matthew 6:6
Lent is an invitation to set aside some extra time for prayer. Not out of obligation, but rather receiving it as a gift, Lent bids us to put our roots deeper in the Lord through prayer and devotion.
Yet, as soon as we determine to go into our room—or church or wherever we can get alone to pray—everything breaks loose. Something needs our attention at home, or we think about the project(s) that we have wanted to do. Resistance will always confront us as soon as we purpose ourselves to pursue God afresh.
The greatest resistance almost always comes from within. We have divided hearts. Part of us truly wants solitude with the Lord. Another part of us does not want to give up the time. Indeed, time is often more limited for us than money.
Trying to set aside time for prayer—which, at least to the naked eye, produces nothing—exposes our hearts. We can be very greedy with our time. Often, by the time we fulfill all our obligations in life, we have a rather short amount of time that is our own. We either want to simply relax, or we want to get to a project that will help us “get ahead.” How reluctant we are to give up that little time we have for prayer!
Just as the practices of fasting and giving alms reveal the clinging in our hearts, so does prayer. In order to pray, we must give God some of our precious time.
Yet, what a privilege we have to focus on prayer during Lent! Perhaps it is going on a Lenten retreat. Or, if we cannot go away for a weekend retreat during this season, we can bring a bit of retreat into our own homes. Each evening we can stop everything we are doing a half hour earlier in order to read some Scripture and a Lenten devotional. Or we can get up half an hour earlier each morning for some extended time with the Lord during Lent. Maybe we can talk half of a day on Saturday or Sunday to go apart for some extended time of solitude and silence.
However it works for you, try setting aside some intentional time of prayer for the remainder of Lent. We will never regret the time we give to God in prayer!
© 2016 Glenn E. Myers
For Lent the church has always emphasized fasting, prayer and giving alms. See Matthew 6: 2,6,17, “So when you give to the needy, do not announce it with trumpets . . . when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen . . . when you fast. . . .”

Saturday, March 18, 2017

Lent: Clinging or Giving?

“Remember this: Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously. Each of you should give what you have decided in your heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.”
            -2 Corinthians 9:6-7
Giving to those in need has always been a central practice of Lent. Referred to as “giving alms,” it helps to meet the need of the poor, the homeless, and those without work.
Nothing is as “worldly” as money. Materialism of today’s culture is based on a money economy. Yet, ironically, few things are as spiritual as what we do with our money.
Giving—or more precisely, our reluctance to give—exposes the clinging in our hearts. Certainly we must be wise and keep a certain reserve of finances. Yet, under the guise of wisdom, we can easily slip into hoarding. Proverbs 11:24, however, exposes the folly of hording: “One gives freely, yet grows all the richer; another withholds what he should give, and only suffers want” (esv).
Like fasting and prayer, the Lenten discipline of giving helps us to grow spiritually by shedding light on some hidden, even dark, places within. We are all called to give to that there be greater equity for those who have less. “See that you excel in the grace of giving,” writes Paul. “Our desire is not that others might be relieved while you are hard pressed, but that there might be equality” (2 Corinthians 8:7, 13).
Jesus assumes that all his followers will be giving alms. He just commands us not to do so in order to receive recognition. Again, our inner attitudes are so often exposed by what we do with the resources that have been given us.
“When you give alms, do not blow a trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets to win the praise of others. Amen, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you give alms, do not let your left hand know what your right is doing.” (Matthew 6:2-3, nabre)
If I am to grow deeper in God during Lent, I need to do more than pray and fast. Giving puts legs on my prayer and devotion. It exposes any clinging to material things that resides in my heart. Then—if I give with a joyful heart—it sets me free to experience joy, friendship and fresh spiritual life!
© 2016 Glenn E. Myers
For Lent the church has always emphasized fasting, prayer and giving alms. See Matthew 6: 2,6,17, “So when you give to the needy, do not announce it with trumpets . . . when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen . . . when you fast. . . .”

Saturday, March 11, 2017

Lent: Sincere Searching of our Hearts through Fasting

“Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry. Because of these, the wrath of God is coming. You used to walk in these ways, in the life you once lived. But now you must also rid yourselves of all such things as these: anger, rage, malice, slander, and filthy language from your lips.” –Colossians 3:5-8

What an opportunity! Lent is time set aside to put our roots down deeper into God. Since the early centuries of the Church, sincere Christians have recognized the importance of having a season reserved for taking an honest look at ourselves—allowing the Holy Spirit to search our hearts—in order to put off anything that hinders us from a genuine relationship with God.
Three practices that Christians focus on in Lent to help us take an honest look at our lives are fasting, giving to the needy, and prayer. These do not earn us any points. Rather, they help us grow spiritually by exposing little idols that we cling to. They uncover some of the things that Colossians 3 (above) tells us we need to “rid ourselves of” and “put to death.”
Fasting is pretty straightforward. We give up food and/or drink for a season. Fasting addresses the physical cravings in our lives. Likewise we can fast from media for a season, whether giving up texting or movies or other forms of entertainment for a day.
As soon as I fast from a meal or checking my cellphone, my flesh screams out in protest. This provides the opportunity for me to say “no” to my flesh to make sure it is not ruling me.
That “no” goes counter to my old nature, which wants what it wants when it wants it. In addition, “no” goes counter to the whole culture in which we live, a society that says if it feels good, do it.
For those very reasons, I need to set aside a season to confront the tyranny of that inner “I want!” and bring it into submission to Christ. It is not that food is bad. Indeed it is good and necessary. However, when it—or anything other appetite—controls me by its demands, it becomes an idol. Oh, how easily human nature is ruled by idols!
As I have aged, I cannot do several-day fasts as I did when I was younger. That is okay. I can still fast from deserts (which can easily get a grip on me!) and take a stand against the tyranny of my earthly nature—that inner “I want it now!”
Instead of pampering my immediate appetites, I turn my focus toward the Lord. I stir up my hunger for him. I surrender myself afresh to his rule, and I put down roots in a brand new way during this season of spiritual growth.
© 2016 Glenn E. Myers
For Lent the church has always emphasized fasting, prayer and giving alms. See Matthew 6: 2,6,17, “So when you give to the needy, do not announce it with trumpets . . . when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen . . . when you fast. . . .”

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Lent’s Message—Wake Up, O Sleeper!

“Awake, O sleeper,
    and arise from the dead,
and Christ will shine on you.”
     -Ephesians 5:14 (ESV)
Such are Paul’s words to Christians—his wake-up call to believers like us—to lay aside things that we so easily slip into: impurity, covetousness, filthy language and foolish talk. Instead, he said, we are called to walk in the light (Ephesians 5:3-14).
Even if we do not walk in overt darkness, it is so easy for us as Christians to be lulled to sleep. The day-in and day-out responsibilities tire us. Sometimes life simply drains the life out of us. Our once vivid, vibrant pursuit of Christ starts to fade. The cares of the world exhaust us, and we go into an emotional dullness and spiritual drowsiness.
Therefore, we need some regular wake-up calls in our lives. Lent is just such a time. Forty plus days are set aside for us to be shaken awake—to become spiritually alive—in a brand new way.
In the early sixth century, Saint Benedict called Christians to abandon a life of lukewarm faith. He invited them to pursue of life of prayer, memorizing Scripture, growth in Christ-like character, and manual labor. The opening words of the Rule of Benedict still challenge us today:
Let us arise, then, at last,
for the Scripture stirs us up, saying,
"Now is the hour for us to rise from sleep" (Romans 13:11).
Let us open our eyes to the deifying light,
let us hear with attentive ears
the warning which the divine voice cries daily to us,
"Today if you hear His voice,
harden not your hearts" (Psalm 95:8).
Every believer can resonate with these words. While many of us will not join a monastery, we can all respond to God’s wake-up call.
In order for us to walk in the light, as Ephesians 5 exhorts, we must wake up. Let us use the coming six weeks of Lent as a wake-up call to revitalize our walk with the Lord!
© 2016 Glenn E. Myers
For Lent the church has always emphasized fasting, prayer and giving alms. See Matthew 6: 2,6,17, “So when you give to the needy, do not announce it with trumpets . . . when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen . . . when you fast. . . .”

Sunday, February 19, 2017

Longing for Lent: Marked by the Cross on Ash Wednesday


By the sweat of your brow
    you will eat your food
until you return to the ground,
    since from it you were taken;
for dust you are
    and to dust you will return.”
            -Genesis 3:19
Ash Wednesday falls on March 1 this year. It marks the beginning of Lent, that forty plus days set aside by the church for nearly two millennia as a time to dedicate ourselves afresh to God.
If you have never been to an Ash Wednesday service, it is a powerful experience. Each person goes forward to receive the sign of the cross in black ashes on his or her forehead. Young and old, men and women, clergy and lay, all receive the ashes. We all stand on level ground before the foot of the cross and the realization of our mortality.
Often the words of Genesis 3:19 are spoken as we receive the ashes. It is quite sobering! I have come from the dust and ashes of the ground, and in due time I will return.
Such a stark reality begs the question: How am I living my days here on earth? Am I telling those around me just how much I love them? Am I pursuing the Lord with my whole heart? How do I need to number my days? What needs to change in my life? Psalm 90:3, 12 states:
You turn people back to dust,
    saying, “Return to dust, you mortals.”
. . .
Teach us to number our days,
    that we may gain a heart of wisdom.
Ash Wednesday is a tremendous teaching tool. As we hear those words and have ash smeared on our foreheads, it is humbling, it is instructive. It brings a renewed sobriety that sets the stage for Lent. If you have never participated in Ash Wednesday or Lent, I encourage you to do so. I welcome you to a wonderful encounter with the Almighty.
This year I am longing for Lent more than I can ever remember. I cannot wait for this season of seeking God to begin in earnest. I want the Lord to search me and try me, removing any wrong way—and lukewarm way—in my life. In the depths of my soul, I am aching for Ash Wednesday to usher in this powerful season of Lent. I am yearning for God to bring fresh transformation to my life!

© 2016 Glenn E. Myers