Saturday, 19 February 2011

The Silence of God

In the beginning the Word already existed.
The Word was with God,
and the Word was God.
(John 1:1)

"This is my Son, whom I love. Listen to him!" (Mark 9:7)

Living, speaking, breathing Word of God; everywhere in Scripture you speak, sometimes in thunder and great terror, sometimes in a still, small voice. From start to finish we are called to listen, and to listen well, so that we might truly live. You shout in the streets, you raise your voice in the public squares, calling out “This is my Son, whom I love. Listen to him!" (Mark 9:7)

Living Word, pre-existent, co-existent, God; Why are you so hard to hear?

You say to us that you are the good shepherd, that you have a voice and with it you speak! And your sheep hear it, know it, follow it. (John 10:1-5) Why are you so hard to hear?

Is it our ears that are the problem? You are scattering the seed of the Word, and you see so many of our ears becoming like the stony ground, or the path, or the weed patch; and there is no fruit. But have mercy on us, oh Lord! We are caught amid a daily barrage of words misused, twisted, and malformed.

Here, “words are forced to make promises they cannot keep. Words are chosen not for their truthfulness but for their seductiveness. What they mean is besides the point. What they seem to mean is all that counts.” (B. Taylor, When God is Silent, 9) Here, we are bombarded by an ever proliferating number of words every day. Today the English language contains some 600,000 words, four times as many as Elizabethan English. Here, Lord, from the moment we wake to the moment we go to sleep we are buried in an avalanche of words; newspapers, advertisements, radio, tv, email, text messages, facebook, twitter.

Living, speaking, breathing Word of God; we confess that we have allowed ourselves to become hard of hearing. We have learned “to filter out words that are not necessary to our lives the same way we learn to sleep in a house near railroad tracks. Our brains protect us from the daily barrage of words by increasing our resistance to them.” (B Taylor, 14) And somehow our filters have kept out not just words, but the Word, as necessary to life as breathing. And so we die, in little ways in every day.

Our ears are a problem. And yet, Lord, and yet. Though I am but dust and ashes, allow me to speak before your mercy. (Augustine, Confessions 1.6) Are you yourself not speaking less, and less loudly, than you have at other times? Merciful One, turn your face towards us in kindness, for are we not already staggering from north to south, from sea to sea, searching for for the Word of the Lord? Are we not consumed by famine, not of food or thirst for water, but of hearing the words of the Lord? (Amos 8:11)

We thirst and hunger, and wonder why, Lord. But what would happen if, in a culture as noisy and polluted by words as ours, you would speak as loudly as the other voices, and whenever we wanted you to? What if you would choose to compete with the noise? Would we not swiftly transform you into a commodity? Would we not domesticate you, the Living Word by whom all things were created, just as soon as we could manage it, and would we not turn you into an accessory to our own chosen lifestyles?

You are most high, most excellent, most potent, most omipotent; you are most merciful and most just, most hidden and most near, most beautiful and most strong; (Confessions 1.4) You have created us in your own image, and all too often we have returned the favor. Holy One, we confess that if you were to compete with the noise we would treat you in the same way we treat the menu at McDonalds. We would live our lives during the week as we’d want to and then, if and when the hunger hits us, perhaps on a Sunday morning, we’d swing through church for a quick dose of the Word, just as much of You and just the aspects of You that we’re in the mood for. But it would not be you; it would be an idol we order, our very own customized off the menu. But You are not an item in a drive through menu.

Living, speaking, breathing Word of God; you do not suffer anyone to dictate the terms of Your involvement in their lives. You will have us only on Your own terms; Holy is He. To protect us and Yourself against our idolatrous attempts to use You for our own agendas, you withdraw behind a veil of silence.

You are the good shepherd who speaks to his sheep. Is it only to protect against our idolatry that you withdraw? Do you not also withdraw so that we will follow you into that silence? For your veil of silence is just that; a veil, and not a wall. Are we ever ready to hear what you have to say to us if we do not first listen to the silence?

Living, speaking, breathing Word of God, most gracious and most merciful, source of all Life; you do speak to us, and I remember… It was a night of anxiety and exhaustion. For over 8 months now Kendra and I have been loving Rachel Amariah, the daughter you’ve blessed us with. And for over 8 months now we’ve also been bracing ourselves for her death, which could come at any time. At 8 months old, she is still just over 7 pounds. We never know what the next day or hour will bring. And this waiting is hard; have mercy, Oh Lord, we are exhausted.

But I remember… It had been a particularly difficult week of waiting, bracing ourselves for the blow that might come at any time, and Friday night found me pacing the house, unable to sit down and relax or focus. So, I went for a walk in the silence of the night. Haven’t you created me to pray deepest and best, and hear most well, when I am walking? You saw me walking and pouring out my soul to you, following you into the silence. And you spoke into the depths of my soul. “You can trust me, David. I know what’s best. Come, trust me, and rest.” Good Shepherd, you do make me lie down in green pastures, you lead me beside still waters; you restore my soul. But before I could hear you, I had to follow you into the silence.

Living, speaking, breathing Word of God; To protect us and Yourself against our idolatrous attempts to use You for our own agendas, You withdraw behind a veil of silence. And You withdraw so that we will follow You into that silence, for only when we first listen to the silence are we ready to hear You.

“Speak to me that I may hear. See, Lord, the ears of my heart are before you. Open them and ‘say to my soul, I am your salvation.’ When I hear these words I will run and lay hold on you. Hide not your face from me. Let me die in seeing your face, lest I die in longing to.” (Augustine, 1.5)

“Why do you spend money for what is not bread, And your wages for what does not satisfy? Listen carefully to Me, and eat what is good, And delight yourself in abundance. "Incline your ear and come to Me. Listen, that you may live.” (Isa 55:2-3)

Friday, 21 May 2010

Today is Rachel's Birthday

Today Rachel arrives. Beyond that, we don’t know what will happen nor how things will be. There is room for much trepidation. There is room for much fear.

But we go into today with the whole armor of God. Our struggle is not against flesh and flood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers of this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places, and today these have one objective; to rob us of our faith in our commander-in-chief so that we are overwhelmed with fear and despair. This is the battle, so we take up the whole armor of God so that we will be able to withstand on this day, and having done everything, to stand firm. We stand, therefore, having fastened the belt of truth around our waists, having put on the breastplate of righteousness, and on our feet the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. We stand, with shield of faith and helmet of salvation and sword of the Spirit.

We go into today with Jesus interceding for us at the right hand of the Father. We go into today with the Spirit interceding for us with groans that words cannot express. We go into today with the Maker of the Universe as our Shepherd – Rachel’s, Kendra’s, David’s. Yea, though we walk through the valley of the shadow of death, we will fear no evil, for thou art with us; thy rod and thy staff, they comfort us.

Tuesday, 20 April 2010

These Hard Days...

If you're interested in keeping up with what is going on in our lives these days, head on over to Kendra's blog, http://rachelamariah.blogspot.com.

Saturday, 17 April 2010

SuperTrain

Today Ethan and I spend the morning at SuperTrain, a model train show here in Calgary. Ethan was transported into seventh heaven, completely in his glory. He would have happily never come home. Here are a few pictures and a video:




Dad, do you recognize this guy? You delivered milk to him when you were a boy (some would say you are still boyish, but details aside...) He built the train himself over several years and it actually drives on an electric motor. The water tower is modeled after the one at Glenboro, MB, which apparently burnt down over the past year.

And here is a short video which shows how very thrilled Ethan was:

video

Tuesday, 5 May 2009

Saturday, 28 March 2009

What is Sin Good For?

Sin, sin, sin, sin; I’m tired of talking about it. In the last several sermons from Genesis we’ve explored our fallenness repeatedly as we’ve worked our way through the temptation and fall in the garden, the spread of sin in society in Genesis 4-5, and the story of Noah and the flood in Genesis 6-9. It’s impossible to understand Genesis, the rest of Scripture, or the human condition without reference to sin and fallenness, but it’s a topic that quickly gets old. And I think it should.

Sin is not amazing. It is not a wonder or a surprise. It is weary, tiresome news. In Scripture the subject of sin is like a black background in a painting; it is there not to draw our attention but to provide the background against which the grace of God glistens. The story of the temptation, fall and curse in the Garden (Gen 3) is one such black background which highlights the astonishing kindness of God to us. Since 2:17 it was clear that the consequence of violating the boundary God had set against eating of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil was death. The miracle is not that they (and we) were punished, but that they (and we) live at all. It is against this black background that we also see other grace notes:
· God personally making garments for Adam and Eve and carefully clothing them before He sends them out from the Garden,
· The mark of protection God put on Cain before he was sent out as punishment for murdering Abel, despite a total lack of repentance on Cain’s part.
· The continuing operation of the blessing (“Be fruitful and multiply, fill the earth, and subdue it and have dominion…”) in the families of Cain and Seth despite the spread of sin.
· In the Noah story God chooses – astonishingly - to redeem his broken creation by covenanting himself irreversably to it, and at great cost to Himself, despite the intent of the heart of humankind being evil from youth on. He could have just started over.

The early church fathers, especially Gregory the Great (540-604 A.D.), taught that we need to have knowledge of our fallen condition so that this knowledge might yield humility in us. Humility in turn yields detachment from the world, from ourselves and from our sins, and makes us conscious of our need for God. The name they gave to the experience of this knowledge was compunction. Originally a medical term referring to attacks of acute pain, compunction came to mean a pain of the spirit. It is a suffering resulting from two causes: (1) the existence of sin and our tendency toward sin, and (2) the existence of our desire for God. “Compunction is an act of God in us, an act by which God awakens us, a shock, a blow, a “sting,” a sort of burn. God goads us as with a spear; He “presses” us with insistence, as if to pierce us. The love of the world lulls us; but, as if by a thunderstroke, the attention of the soul is recalled to God.”[1]

And this soul-pain is what I experienced this weekend. Kendra and I were at a retreat for leaders of churches in our area of our Conference and Len Nation spoke on “Confessions of a Limping Leader.” He exposed some of the ways that Christian leaders slip into attitudes and behaviors rooted in pride, selfishness, and greed (to name a few) instead of Christlike love and humility. This was God’s thunderstroke, descending on me out of the blue. This compunction, this soul-pain, was amazing grace to me because by it God recalled the attention of my soul to Himself. God used Len as a Samuel to this David, and God’s words to me through him were “You are that man…”

Yes. This is what the knowledge of sin is good for. Compunction is a great gift from God. This pain of the soul produces in us tears of repentance but also, and increasingly, tears of desire for God Himself. It is this urgent thirst for God - who alone can fill our inner emptiness - which is the proper goal of our knowledge of sin. It hurts, but it is great grace because that is how God awakens us. So, with some fear and trepidation, I am praying that the LORD might grant you and me the grace of compunction increasingly. Living God, awaken your church!

Because of His Grace,
Pastor David
[1] Jean LeClercq, O.S.B., The Love of Learning and the Desire for God: A Study of Monastic Culture (New York: Fordham University Press, 1974), 38.