Saturday, April 1, 2017

Journey to the Cross


HOT OFF THE PRESSES!!!
Exciting News!  My new Lenten devotional guide Journey to the Cross was released today on Amazon.  Spread the word.  Lent begins with Ash Wednesday, March 1st.

Friday, March 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



Monday, March 20, 2017

beloved

the older i get
the more i realize
what a mess
i am

but i am not
just any mess
i am
a beloved mess

thanks be to god

Saturday, March 18, 2017

center

"Ascribe to the Lord, O heavenly beings, ascribe to the Lord glory and strength.  Ascribe to the Lord the glory due his name; worship the Lord in the splendor of holiness." (Psalm 29:1-2)

So Kyrie Irving believes that the earth is flat.  Interesting.  He's entitled to his opinion, right?  From where I stand--right here, right now--I could buy into that theory.  I mean, from my own little vantage point in this great big world, that's the way it appears to be.  The problem is that time after time I have found that my own little vantage point is not a reliable place to begin.  The larger picture is the one that shows the truth.  The spaceships and satellites that have orbited our planet tell us the real story that our limited vision cannot see.  Oh sure, I can deny all of the evidence to the contrary and live in my own perception of the "truth," but that doesn't change the fact that the truth will still be the truth whether I acknowledge it or not. 

I'm sure Copernicus had the same conversations when he helped us to see that the earth is, in fact, not the center of the universe, the sun is.  There is just something within us that refuses to believe that that's true.  Our default, both then and now, is to believe that we are the center of the universe, that everything revolves around us.  And, unfortunately, I tend to live my life that way.  That's where the Psalms can be so helpful.  They remind me that this life is not about me.  I am not the center of the universe, God is.  And when I begin to truly believe that, and to live as if it were true, it changes everything.  The truth is that my life is not my own; I was made for bigger purposes.  My tiny little story isn't the main story.  I am participant in a story much bigger and much more amazing than I could dare hope or dream.  I was made by God, for God.  My life revolves around him, not he around me.  When I begin to recognize that truth I am able to begin to see things as they really are, and to engage in the life God made me for.

Eugene Peterson said it so well in his book Answering God: "The Psalms were not prayed by people trying to understand themselves.  They are not the record of people searching for the meaning of life.  They were prayed by people who understood that God had everything to do with them.  God, not their feelings, was the center.  God, not their souls, was the issue.  God, not the meaning of life, was critical."

O Lord God, Creator of all things, please remind me again today that I am not the center of the universe, you are!

Saturday, March 11, 2017

disrupted

The voice of the Lord is powerful;
the voice of the Lord is majestic. 
The voice of the Lord breaks the cedars;
the Lord breaks the cedars of Lebanon.
The voice of the Lord strikes
with flashes of lightening. 
The voice of the Lord shakes the desert;
the Lord shakes the Desert of Kadesh. 
The voice of the Lord twists the oaks
and strips them bare
And in his temple all cry, "Glory!"
~Psalm 29:4-5, 7-9

There are no two ways about it;
God's voice is disruptive. 
A perfect thing to remember
during the season of Lent,
a season that is quite disruptive itself. 
I don't know about you,
but even though I hate to admit it,
I need to be disrupted. 
I have a tendency to fall asleep in my life
and not even know it. 
I need to be shaken out of my slumber. 
I need to be disrupted
from my sense of ease and comfort
with the dysfunctional patterns and habits
I have fallen into
that I somehow have begun to see as normal. 
I need to be shaken and twisted. 
My soul needs to be stripped bare,
so that I can see things
the way they truly are. 
God wants so much more for me
than the life I am currently living,
so once a year Lent rolls around. 
It is my invitation
to allow the voice of God
to thunder in my life. 
To invite him to break my cedars,
whatever that may look like. 
To even ask him to be break and to strike
whatever needs to be broken and struck,
so that I might live the life
that God wants to live
in and through me. 
And all in the temple
will cry, "Glory!"  

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

tired

There is a delicate balance to be kept in this life of faith.  One that is so fragile and tenuous that we must pay careful attention to it, lest we fall off one side of the fence or another in the tension between doing and being.  Life can get so busy and chaotic at times that we hardly even notice it's happening; that's the tricky part.  The urgent can take precedence over the important and before you know it you have subtly drifted into a dark and weary land.  That's why it is so important to keep the pattern Jesus showed us in Luke 10:15-17 on the forefront of our minds.  It is a pattern that repeats itself over and over again in the life of faith: Jesus takes the bread, then he blesses the bread, then he breaks the bread, and then he gives the bread.

We are all people who are constantly being given on a regular basis, oftentimes in numerous areas simultaneously.  So being given is not typically the problem.  The problem occurs when we separate being given from being taken, blessed, and broken.  Each of the four movements of this dance of life and faith (and particularly ministry) is vitally necessary.  All are interdependent.  But all to often we jump straight to being given before we make the space to be taken, blessed, and broken--much to our own demise.  For it is only after we have allowed God to take us tenderly and lovingly into his hands and his heart, and to bless us by infusing us with his words and Spirit of goodness and affection and life, and then to gently (and not so gently if necessary) break us of our independence and our pride and our need for control, that we can fruitfully, authentically, and powerfully be given.  For if we skip those first three steps, we will soon end up tired and depleted, burnt-out and exhausted, or lifeless and shallow; which will be no good to anyone.  Being given is not an end in itself, we must indeed have something to give before we rush into the world to try and feed them with our meager five loaves and two small fish.  Therefore, we must make sure, as the disciples did, that we first give all that we have to Jesus, for only then will we have anything of eternal value to offer the hungry multitudes.

Monday, February 27, 2017

the end is praise

What we call the beginning is often the end
And to make an end is to make a beginning.
The end is where we start from.

                                    ~T. S. Eliot


It seems that each year I approach Lent with a sense of heaviness and dread, as I enter into the season where I contemplate the cross, as well as all of my sin that made it necessary.  This is a good and fruitful (and necessary) process. I mean, after all, you can't know how good the Good News is until you have faced the bad, right?  But this little piece of poem by T. S. Eliot gave me a little hope; a little silver lining of the sun rising on the other side of the dark clouds.  For the end of this season is not the cross, but the resurrection.  And if somehow, as I go through the hard season of Lent, fully aware of the fact that the end of the story is resurrection, then it gives me hope and strength and life to persevere through the difficult reality of the sin that I must face.  But I always must remember that sin is not the end of the story; forgiveness is.  Death does not have the final word; life does.

Years ago (many years) I was doing a program for a ski camp at Windy Gap with some friends of mine from Knoxville.  The camp was for a Florida group and began on New Year's Eve.  The downside was that Tennessee was playing Miami in the Sugar Bowl on New Year's night and we would have to miss it.  Well, being the huge Tennessee fans we were, we asked a friend who was the Area Director of YL in Asheville at the time (Howie Burkhalter) to tape it for us and bring it up late New Year's night so we could watch it when our program responsibilities were over.  Howie kindly agreed to do just that and brought the tape up around 1:00 AM.  This was way before the days of cell phones and there was no TV reception on the property at Windy Gap in those days, so it was pretty easy for us to NOT find out who won the game before we watched it.  The only thing Howie said when he gave us the tape was, "Don't stop watching it."  Well, we all settled in and began to watch.  Miami was a huge favorite and could possibly win the national championship with a victory in this game, so none of us were very hopeful, though Howie's comment at least gave us hope that it might be close.  Miami received the opening kickoff and drove straight down the field for an easy touchdown and it seemed like we were in for a long night.  I'll have to admit, we were already exhausted from camp and the prospects of staying up until 4:00 AM to watch us lose didn't seem appealing to any of us.  But Howie's words gave us a glimmer of hope, so we kept watching.  Well, long story short, from that first touchdown on, Tennessee put the beatdown on Miami and won one of the most storied games in the history of UT football.  And if not for a little word of hope from Howie Burkhalter, who had seen the end of the game, we would probably have turned it off and gone to bed.

I've been reading through the Psalms lately.  I am also reading back through a book called Answering God by Eugene Peterson (which I would highly recommend).  And the book of Psalms ends with a section called "The Halel."  It is a section of psalms of praise.  The book of prayers and songs that are the Psalms end in praise.  This is no accident.  The Psalms know the whole story.  They know how it ends.  They are full of doubt and desperation and questioning and lament and confession and struggle and a constant battle with enemies, but they end in praise.  And they end in praise because the Story--God's story and our story and the story of a broken and hurting world--ends in praise.  Therefore, since we know the end of the story, there is hope and strength and perseverance to endure through the times where things are tough and look pretty bleak. 

This seems especially appropriate as we enter the season of Lent; as we journey to the cross with Jesus, which takes us right through the valley of the shadow of sin and death and darkness.  But sin and death and darkness are not the end, so he travel through this season of Lent with hope.  Yes, reflect and confess and repent, it is necessary and good.  But do so knowing that the end is praise.  In the end Jesus is raised from the dead; and because of that, so are we.  Thanks be to God!  Have a rich and wonderful Lenten season!