Thursday, August 31, 2017

the blue book is now available on amazon


Exciting News!  The Blue Book is now available on Amazon!  And not only that, but it also has a bunch of new content!  I've been working for the past year or so to write an opening reflection for each chapter and I'm really excited about the end result.  I hope you will be too.  So please spread the word.  Tell your friends that the strange blue devotional book that has always been so hard to find, is hard to find no more.

*Update: Thanks for the great response!  Glad to see the book still seems to be helpful to so many in making space to hear God's voice and know of his great affection.  Since the book has been released on Amazon I do, however, find that I miss the contact with many of you.  I miss hearing the stories of how God has used the book in your life or ministry.  So, if you have the time, I would love it if you would just leave your comments here, or drop by Amazon and give a review.  And, as always, feel free to email me with your Blue Book story if you'd like.  I love hearing them. Blessings, Jim



Tuesday, June 27, 2017

marriage

     Wives, understand and support your husbands in ways that show your support for Christ. The husband provides leadership to his wife the way Christ does to his church, not by domineering but by cherishing. So just as the church submits to Christ as he exercises such leadership, wives should likewise submit to their husbands.
     Husbands, go all out in your love for your wives, exactly as Christ did for the church—a love marked by giving, not getting. Christ’s love makes the church whole. His words evoke her beauty. Everything he does and says is designed to bring the best out of her, dressing her in dazzling white silk, radiant with holiness. And that is how husbands ought to love their wives. They’re really doing themselves a favor—since they’re already “one” in marriage.
     No one abuses his own body, does he? No, he feeds and pampers it. That’s how Christ treats us, the church, since we are part of his body. And this is why a man leaves father and mother and cherishes his wife. No longer two, they become “one flesh.” This is a huge mystery, and I don’t pretend to understand it all. What is clearest to me is the way Christ treats the church. And this provides a good picture of how each husband is to treat his wife, loving himself in loving her, and how each wife is to honor her husband. (Ephesians 5:22-33, The Message)


A few of days ago my wife and I had the incredible privilege of attending a ten year anniversary ceremony for a couple of dear friends.  They got married when they were really young and at the time were unable to afford the wedding they had always dreamt about, so they decided to have it on their tenth anniversary.  And it was delightful!  It was delightful because of the setting and the intentionality and the friends and family who had gathered.  It was delightful because of the wonderful weather and the beautiful decorations and the great food.  But mostly, it was delightful because of this extraordinary couple.  Her friends and family describe her as a great daughter, a great sister, and a great friend.  Her husband describes her as his rock--an incredible wife and mother.  Her life revolves around investing herself in the lives of those she loves, especially her husband and their four beautiful children.  He is a professional athlete.  His friends and family describe him as an enormous man with an enormous heart-- kind-hearted, loving, and generous (both with his time and his resources).  He is known in his profession as a great teammate who is willing to do the dirty work; willing to do all of the difficult, unglamorous things that no one else really wants to do.  In a word, both of these dear friends could be described as selfless.

And because this ceremony took place ten years after they had originally gotten married, I think it led everyone there to reflect upon marriage in general, an upon our own marriages in particular.  I know it did me.  What makes a great marriage?  What makes a marriage that lasts?  And, even more, what makes a marriage that flourishes?  All of these questions, I believe, are addressed in the words above from the book of Ephesians.  The secret to a great marriage can be summed up in two words: strength and beauty.  Let me explain what I mean by that. 

A wise man once said that the deepest question of every man's heart is, "Do I have what it takes?" while the greatest question of every woman's heart is, "Am I beautiful enough to be pursued?"  Now I am not completely sure about what resides in the heart of a woman, but as far as I'm concerned, the deepest question of every man's heart is spot on.  Deep in the heart of every man is the desire to be capable, adequate, and strong.  Oh, not strong in a brutish, bullying sort of way, but strong in a way that allows those dearest to us to feel safe and protected and cared for.  It is a strength filled with lovingkindness and tender care. And deep in the heart of every woman lies the desire to be considered beautiful.  Not is just beautiful in the physical sense, but beautiful deep down to the core of who she really is.  A beauty that draws people to want to know her and be in deep relationship with her. 


I think that's why Paul uses the word "honor" when speaking to the wives and "cherish" when speaking to the husbands.  Somehow when wives honor their husbands, they hold them in high regard.  They make something come alive in them that God breathed into them when he dreamt them into being.  They draw out their godly strength.  And somehow when a husband cherishes his wife, he makes something come to life in her that makes her the very best, God-breathed, version of herself.  When she is cherished, her true beauty is evoked from her. 

The bottom line is that marriage was intended to be a place where husband and wife make each other the very best version of themselves.  And somehow the oneness from which, and for which, marriage was designed, means that the two together are more than they could ever be on their own.  That is not meant to diminish or demean singleness in any way.  In fact, I believe singleness is a unique and beautiful calling (or season) as well.  For those who are single it is almost as if God were saying, "I want to be that for you right now.  I want to be that intimate one in your life."  But the whole idea behind marriage is that two separate people would become one in some wonderfully mysterious way.  That the sum of the whole (in Christ) would somehow be greater than the sum of the parts.  I know that I have found this to be true in my own marriage.  I am a much, much better man with Carol in my life than I could ever hope to be without her.  Her presence in my life makes me more and more who God intended for me to be.

The question is, how is this oneness in marriage achieved?  How do we live in union as husband and wife, rather than simply settling for living parallel lives?  I think the answer goes back to the weekend celebration we just had the pleasure of witnessing.  Oneness is achieved through selflessness.  Just ask the Trinity.  They live in joyful, loving union with one another, each honoring and cherishing and pointing toward and delighting in the other.  It is a Great Round Dance of Love that we are invited to take part in.  Oneness happens when we follow their lead.  Thus, oneness begins to take shape when we become more committed to the cares and needs and wants and desires of our spouse than we are to our own plans, demands, and agendas.  When both spouses are committed to giving themselves fully and completely to each other--no holding back--oneness is the byproduct.  Just ask Jesus, the part of the Trinity who came to show us what the heart of God is really like, and what it mean to really love someone.  His love is our guide.  We are to love our spouse the way he has loved us.   When we do that, we become, both corporately and individually, all that God designed us to be. 

Friday, June 23, 2017

a prayer for intimate knowing

penetrate me o god
and know me intimately
test me as precious metal
and deeply know
my many thoughts and fears
see if there is any idol within me
anything that grieves you
or brings sorrow to your heart
and lead me in the hidden way
the way that is far too big
for me to see
the way that can only be seen
with the eyes of the heart
the way of eternity
the way without beginning
and without end
the way to my truest home
in you

(from Psalm 139:23-24)

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

traps

Keep me free from the trap that is set for me, for you are my refuge.  Into your hands I commit my spirit; deliver me, Lord, my faithful God. (Psalm 31:4-5)




A few winters ago we had mice.  Not a fun experience.  And when you have mice, you set traps.  The good thing about mice is that once you do a little research (thank you Google and YouTube) you find out that mice are creatures of habit.  Two things are always true about mice.  First, since their eyesight is not very good, they always follow the exact same pathways, mostly using their sense of smell.  And second, they will always (100% of the time) take the bait.  They simply cannot, or will not, resist it.  So all you have to do to catch mice is to look for the evidence of their pathways and set a trap right in the middle of it.  Or, simply put some bait on a trap and wait for the magic to happen.

Traps are an interesting phenomenon.  The definition of the word trap is a contrivance, device, stratagem, trick, or the like used to catch people or animals unaware.  Thus, setting a trap involves intention, strategy, and cunning.  You set a trap in order to catch something, or trick someone.  And the reason the trap works is because it is either hidden, unrecognized, or baited.

In Psalm 31, David prays that God might help free him from the trap that is set for him.  Now maybe he is talking about a physical trap, and maybe he is talking about a spiritual trap.  Who knows?  Most likely, he talking about both.  Either way, it sounds like he had enough experience stepping into traps, and experiencing their effects, that he wanted to avoid them in the future if at all possible.  Which meant that he had to become proficient in three things: recognizing, avoiding, and resisting

I don't know about you, but I can totally relate to David.  I have a tendency to step into traps as well.  Which I suppose also means that I am not so different from a mouse.  I, too, have a tendency to travel familiar pathways.  I also have a difficult time not taking the bait whenever it is right in front of me.  My bait, however, is not cheese.  My bait tends to be affirmation, importance, significance, and esteem (there are many more to add to the list, but you get the point).  And when I am hungry for one of these things I go looking for it.  I sniff it out.  Therefore, it is not terribly difficult to set a trap for me.

It is a familiar scenario.  It usually starts with my insecurity welling up within me, which produces a need to be right and a hunger to be respected.  When that doesn't happen in the way I'd hoped, it often leads to frustration, anxiety, and even anger--making me the absolute worst possible version of myself.  It is a downward spiral from there.  And there you have it.  Boom!  The trap worked perfectly--once again.  I am such easy prey.

Maybe you experience the same thing.  Oh, it may not be insecurity.  It may, instead, be control or power or pleasure, or any number of other things that sets you in motion, but the result is the same.  You follow familiar pathways, or you go looking for places to satisfy your hunger, and then boom!  There you are--trapped.  Again!

So how do we battle this?  How do we keep from being trapped in the same old habits and patterns and dysfunction over and over again?  First of all, we need to be trained to recognize the traps that have been set in our paths.  This takes attentiveness, presence and prayer.  We must begin to walk with God in such a way that he is able to help us have eyes to see the reality of our situation.  After all, as David reminds us in Psalm 139:3, God is familiar with all our ways.  If we walk slowly and attentively with him through the course of our days (and our lives) he will teach us how to see the things that we normally miss.  He will help us to see the rope hiding beneath the leaves that is waiting to grab us by the ankles the minute we set foot in it.  Learning to live life with God, at his speed, will help us to recognize.

Next, we must learn to avoid the places where the traps are typically set.  This is not rocket science.  We are not mice.  If you step into a trap, one of the best ways not to do it again is to avoid putting yourself in that position.  It's the old "fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me" routine.  This is where it takes both wisdom and willingness.  We have to be wise in recognizing our patterns and their results.  And then we have to be willing to change those patterns.  Men, if it is impossible for you to be on your computer and not be led into sin, get rid of it.  If you continue to use it, you will repeat those damaging patterns--again and again.  Or if it is your phone, get rid of the smart phone, go old school.  The question is: "Are you willing to do whatever it takes to not fall into that trap over and over again?"  Will you do everything in your power to avoid it?  If it is a certain situation, or person, or circumstance that makes you become the worst version of yourself, you might want to reflect and pray about the dynamics of that relationship and change it somehow, lest you find the trap slamming shut on you again and again.

And finally, we must resist.  This one is a little tricky because we immediately begin to assume that our success or failure ultimately has to do with our own willpower.  If that were the case, we would all be in big, big trouble.  You will not conquer the biggest enemies of your spiritual life with sheer willpower.  You will be easy prey.  The tricky part is that resistance is not so much about being determined not to take the bait anymore.  It is, rather, about realizing that there is something much better, much richer, much more satisfying than the piddly little bait we normally take, and feeding on that (on Jesus) instead.  It is about being filled with something so much better that we will lose our appetite for the things of the world because of the depth and beauty and riches of the things of the Kingdom.  It is not about stopping up our ears and refusing to listen to the Siren Song (Ulysses), as much as it is about being captured by a more beautiful song altogether (Orpheus).  It is about letting go of the lesser affections because you have been seized by the power of the Great Affection.  It is really about falling in love. 

Unfortunately, even still, I have a tendency to not even think about the trap until after I have already stepped into it.  So I must continue to cultivate a more and more intimate life with God.  I must continue to live my life with God in such a way that I can learn to recognize, avoid, and resist the many traps that have been set for me.  Maybe constantly praying this prayer (Psalm 31:1-5) is a good place to start.



Saturday, June 17, 2017

check

Trust in the Lord and do good; dwell In the land and enjoy safe pasture.  Delight in the Lord and he will give you the desires of your heart.  Commit your way to the Lord; trust him and he will do this: He will make your righteousness shine like the dawn, the justice of your cause like the noonday sun.  Be still before the Lord and wait patiently for him; do not fret. . . ." (Psalm 37:3-7)


I am a list guy.  As much as I might try to deny it, it is true.  I like to make lists and I like, even more, to check things off.  I have even been known to write things on my list that I have already completed, just for the joy of checking them off.  I know, I know, it is a sickness.  I guess one of the reasons for this strange compulsion is that I have spent most of my life in one kind of vocational ministry or another, which is a life and a calling that seldom leads to being able to check things off a list.  Being involved in the lives of people isn't that neat and tidy.  It is often messy and is relentlessly ongoing.

Unfortunately, because of this obsession with lists, I can sometimes treat my spiritual life with the same type of attitude.  Read the scriptures.  Spend time with God.  Pray.  Check, check, and check.  Not very conducive to the life of God growing within me.

Who knows, maybe King David had the same problem.  But maybe he learned the wisdom of discerning what things actually need to be on the list and what things do not.  Take Psalm 37, for instance.  In verses 3-8 there is a "to do" list.  But it is not just any to do list; it is a list that gets right to the heart of what life with God is really all about.  Just look at the things David says to do: trust, do good, dwell, enjoy, delight, commit, trust (once again), be still, and wait patiently.  Now that's a list I can get excited about.  That is a list that is actually far more about being than it is about doing. 

And look at the one thing he says not to do--fret.  For fretting leads only to evil.  Fretting actually dries up the life of God within us.  It fills us so full of ourselves and our problems, worries and dilemmas that it leaves no room within us for the movement of God's Spirit.

So if you are looking for a little spark, a little guidance and direction in your life with God, why not take David's words to heart?  Allow the words of this ancient prayer to take up residence within you.  Allow them to teach you the movements and rhythms of God's grace.  That is what the Psalms do.  In the words of Eugene Peterson, "The psalms train us in the conversation with God that is prayer."

Check?  Check.

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

delight

Trust in the Lord and do good; dwell in the land and enjoy safe pasture.  Delight yourself in the Lord and he will give you the desires of your heart.  Commit your way to the Lord; trust in him and he will do this: he will make your righteousness shine like the dawn, the justice of your cause like the noonday sun.  Be still before the Lord and wait patiently for him; do not fret. . .it leads only to evil. (Psalm 37:3-8, NIV)




It is impossible to understate the importance of delight in the spiritual life.  Delight is the very lifeblood of our lives with God.  It is the thing that gives life and energy and vibrancy to our souls.  It is the end result of the activity of God’s Spirit within us.  God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit,” says Paul in Romans. (Rom. 5:5)  Delight is when God’s Spirit so captures our hearts with his great love and affection that it changes everything about us.  Thus, we come to delight in him as we recognize his deep delight in us, which fills us to overflowing so that his Divine Love spills out of us into the world around us.
    
The word delight (‘anag) is used in a couple of different ways in the Old Testament.  The literal translation is to be soft or delicate.  Thus, when we delight in God, we become soft to him.  We are pliable in his hands, open and vulnerable to his touch and his voice and his Spirit.  The other way the word delight is used in the scriptures is to be filled with deep gladness.  When we delight ourselves in the Lord, we find our deepest joy and gladness in who he is, and in his great affection for us.  This, in turn, breeds so many other great things in the life of faith: trust and rest and surrender to his will and his direction.  When we delight in our God, we recognize, and are convinced of, the depths of his heart for us, allowing us to truly trust in him.
     
In contrast (in Psalm 37), is the word fret.  The word fret is used a couple of different ways in the Old Testament as well.  To fret (charah) literally means to blaze up or grow hot.  Under this usage of the word, when we fret we get angry with God and become hardened to him, rather than soft.  The other way the word fret is used is to be filled with worry or doubt.  When we fret, we become consumed.  We allow worry or doubt to so fill us up that there is no room for God to do anything of value within us.
   
So how do we live in such a way, as to cultivate and nurture delight, while minimizing and weeding out fret?  Maybe a starting point would be to begin to immerse our hearts in the words of this ancient prayer.  To reflect on it and chew on it and meditate on it and pray it until it begins to take root within us.  Maybe by praying these words over and over, we might actually begin to do them; or, better yet, to become them.  Maybe by praying these very words we will become more convinced of his love and, thus, more able to delight in him.  It seems like a good place to start anyway.

Friday, June 9, 2017

blessed to bless

"We are chosen, blessed and broken so as to be given.  The fourth aspect of the life of the Beloved is to be given.  For me, personally, this means that it is only as people who are given that we can fully understand our being chosen, blessed and broken.  In the giving it becomes clear that we are chosen, blessed and broken not simply for our own sakes, but so that all we live finds its final significance in its being lived for others." (Life of the Beloved by Henri J. M. Nouwen)


You, yes you, are God's Beloved.  You are his masterpiece; his work of art.  You bring him deep joy and great delight.  You make his heart skip a beat every time he thinks of you--which is all the time.  You bring a smile to his face and a song to his lips.  Our God, the Father of Jesus, is very, very fond of you.

Now go forth into the world and speak words of life and love and blessing to everyone you come in contact with.