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Sunday, March 6, 2011


I read two things from Nouwen this week about our covenant relationship with God that got my attention:

God's Covenant
God made a covenant with us. The word covenant means "coming together." God wants to come together with us. In many of the stories in the Hebrew Bible, we see that God appears as a God who defends us against our enemies, protects us against dangers, and guides us to freedom. God is God-for-us. When Jesus comes a new dimension of the covenant is revealed. In Jesus, God is born, grows to maturity, lives, suffers, and dies as we do. God is God-with-us. Finally, when Jesus leaves he promises the Holy Spirit. In the Holy Spirit, God reveals the full depth of the covenant. God wants to be as close to us as our breath. God wants to breathe in us, so that all we say, think and do is completely inspired by God. God is God-within-us. Thus God's covenant reveals to us to how much God loves us.

God's faithfulness and ours
When God makes a covenant with us, God says: "I will love you with an everlasting love. I will be faithful to you, even when you run away from me, reject me, or betray me." In our society we don't speak much about covenants; we speak about contracts. When we make a contract with a person, we say: "I will fulfill my part as long as you fulfill yours. When you don't live up to your promises, I no longer have to live up to mine." Contracts are often broken because the partners are unwilling or unable to be faithful to their terms.

But God didn't make a contract with us; God made a covenant with us, and God wants our relationships with one another to reflect that covenant. That's why marriage, friendship, life in community are all ways to give visibility to God's faithfulness in our lives together.

God-for us. God-with-us. God-within-us. Clearly, this is the MOST reliable relationship in our lives! And if we give Him our best energy and attention, we are then filled with all we need to be able to truly give to others. As Nouwen wrote elsewhere, "It is very hard for love not to become possessive because our hearts look for perfect love and no human being is capable of that. Only God can offer perfect love."

It took me far too long to learn this. For so many years I gave the bulk of my relational attention and energy to my friends, and then the crumbs to God. But I was looking for something to come of my human relationships that they were not capable of fulfilling. They usually crumbled under the strain of my need. He patiently waited for me to see the folly of my shallow, insecure ways. I desperately wanted security, safety and constancy. Only He can give us those things.

So as I approach Ash Wednesday this week, I want to enter the Lenten season as an opportunity for me to extend, broaden, and deepen my safe, nurturing, dependable relationship with God. As Stuart Malloy says in some reflections on Lent,
Lent is a season that reminds us to repent and get our lives centered, our priorities straight, and our hearts clean. This holy season offers us a new chance to say, "yes" to the Lover of our Souls who created us, who made us in his own image. Lent is the time for a restoration project that will reveal the beauty of God’s design for us, showing once again the scale, proportion, and priorities intended by our Maker.
So I will take these next few days to consider what I will "give up" for Lent. Only because in giving up something (a meal, a habit, an item...) I can use the time or money that I would normally use in the thing given up to instead reflect, pray, and repent. As I do that, I will know Him that much better.

How do you want to grow in your own discipleship? I will be looking at the things that might be taking up too much of my time, or serve as attractive distractions. The thing you give up may not be inherently "bad," but just something that you can let go of for a few weeks in order to focus on higher, more eternal things.

Most importantly, we need to s-t-r-e-t-c-h. Lent is not about convenience. It's about covenant. God has made a commitment to us to which He is constantly, utterly, undyingly faithful. The least I can do is respond with gratitude and humble sacrifice ~ albeit paltry in comparison to His remarkable, generous, abundant love.

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