Thursday, December 31, 2020

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



Wednesday, September 30, 2020

My Newest Book


JUST RELEASED!!!  Been working on this book for a number of years and glad it is finally available on Amazon.  Schola Caritatis: Learning the Rhythms of God's Amazing Love
It contains the stories, practices, and content of the Spiritual Formation class I've been teaching for the last 10+ years.  Spread the word!!!

Friday, August 7, 2020

being a non-anxious presence

Stand at the crossroads and look; ask for the ancient paths, ask where the good way is, and walk in it, and you will find rest for your souls. (Jeremiah 6:16)

In the midst of the crazy and chaotic times in which we live, what does the world really need from us, the people of God?  Another argument or opinion?  Another agenda or platform?  Another voice of anxiety or anger or frustration or suspicion?  There are an abundance of all of the above, it seems, so why just add another one to the fray?  No one seems to be listening anyway.  In fact, it’s hard to listen when everyone is speaking. 

So what does the world really need from us?  How about a calm, loving, non-anxious presence?  People who are willing to listen, not only to each other, but also to the times, to our lives, and to our God.  People who aren’t trying to protect or attack or defend, but who are looking to love.  People who are not driven by anxiety or insecurity or control or demand, but are driven by compassion.  People who are willing and able to sit still long enough, and be quiet long enough, to have any idea where the Spirit may be leading, or what the Spirit may be up to.  People who are not merely reacting to fears or circumstances or scenarios, but are prayerfully open to whatever the Spirit of God may be doing in and through the chaos.  People whose first response is not to jump, but to pray.  And then, and only then, are willing to act.  That is what the world really needs.

So how do we become that?  How do we become people who are rooted and planted in the love and wisdom of God?  We stop.  We sit still.  We look.  We pray.  We shut our mouths and open our ears.  We listen to God and we listen to each other.  We discern together what he is saying and what he is doing.  And when we arrive at some communal sense of what God is saying and what he is doing, of where the good way is, we walk in it.  We go and do whatever he says.  We love.  We serve.  We live.

Never let me forget, O Lord, that this life is about you and not about me.  Because when I forget that one truth, I end up frustrated and fearful and angry and anxious, rather than loving and caring and compassionate and at peace.  Make me more like you today, so that I’ll be better able to express you in the world.  Amen.

Wednesday, August 5, 2020

moving from micro to macro

What a strange few months it has been.  I don’t know about you, but for me, in these days of global pandemics and calls for social justice, it has been so easy to “miss the forest for the trees,” as the old saying goes.  It is easy for me to become so focused on my own little world and how these things affect (or don’t affect) me personally, that I fail to see the bigger picture.  I fail to step into a higher calling.  I become so concerned and consumed with my own well-being that I fail to see, or even think about, the greater good.  Granted, seeing the greater good, and understanding exactly what it takes to get us there, is way more complicated than I might imagine, but it seems like it is an endeavor that is worth the time and effort and conversation.

We are living in a time and a season where things like wearing masks and canceling sporting events and being asked to stay at home have become a part of the landscape, as has our willingness or unwillingness to adhere to each.  Should bars stay open or should they close?  Should there be football or should there not be?  Should schools reopen or should we only have online learning?  Questions abound.  How on earth are we, as God’s people, supposed to even begin to answer these questions?   

And what about social justice issues?  How have we allowed people who are made in the image of God, with beauty and dignity and purpose, to be cast aside or held down or belittled or marginalized?  And how do we keep creating systems that make it almost impossible for them to thrive and grow and flourish?  When the well-being of one part of society is defended and maintained at the expense of another, should that not repulse us and call us to action? 

Israel wanted a king, so God gave them one.  The king was to be an extension and a representative of God to his people.  The king’s job was to lead and to guide, to provide for and protect and defend.  The king was to be about God’s reign, God’s rule, and God’s kingdom on earth, not his just own.  One of the main ways the king was supposed to do this was by assuring justice (mishpat) and righteousness (tsedeq) for all (see Psalm 72).  Justice meaning that the standards of the kingdom were to be applied equally and fairly to everyone.  And righteousness literally meaning to be straight, or that everyone and everything would be as it was meant to be; everyone is given the opportunity to be exactly who and what God intended them to be—in right relationship with him and in right relationship with one other.

The main way you could tell whether a king was doing his job or not, was by how well the poor and vulnerable and marginalized were doing (the anavim).  If the anavim were flourishing and prospering, then the king was doing a good job; he was being God’s leader and representative to the people.  And if the anavim were not prospering, if they were not being treated rightly and justly, then the king was failing in his role and needed to be replaced.  Everything hinged on how well the poor and vulnerable and weak and marginalized were doing, which might be something we need to pay attention to these days.

In the midst of any health crisis, particularly COVID-19, it seems like the most vulnerable are always the poor, the newborn (and unborn), and the elderly.  What if we made our decisions about openings and closings, masks or no masks, sports or no sports, school in person or online, based on what is most beneficial to the most vulnerable among us?  Would that not be the most God-like (king-like) thing to do?  Especially in the midst of a virus that can so easily and unknowingly be passed along from one person to another.  What if we stopped making it about our own individual rights and wants and preferences, and started making it about what was most loving and caring to everyone, even the poor and the elderly?  Now don’t get me wrong, I am a huge football fan, and I want there to be football.  I just don't want it to be at anyone's expense.  Would it be too much to ask to miss a football season if it was in order to save the lives of those who are weakest and most vulnerable among us?

And what about social justice?  Living where I live and doing what I normally do, I can go for months without even thinking about it, but others are not so fortunate.  What if my level of contentment with where things are in the country and the world, as far as justice issues are concerned, was dependent upon those who have to deal with them on a daily basis?  What if I was never content until they were content?  What if I refused to flourish until they were free to flourish?  What if we all cared about everyone being treated with the dignity and respect and kindness and equity and love that we hope to be shown ourselves?  What if it is wasn’t enough just to be aware of what the issues are, but to actually be a part of doing something about them?

You see, when we focus on the micro, we tend to get ourselves in trouble; it brings out the absolute worst in all of us.  Things become combative and defensive and argumentative, and even violent.  We just start spinning around in our own little lives, worrying about our own needs and wants, and we miss the great big story God has called us (all of humanity) to take part in.  But when we are able to shift our focus, our seeing and our thinking, to the macro—to the bigger picture, to the greater good—God begins to do amazing things.  God works in and through us, and the world becomes a better place to live…for everyone.


Monday, August 3, 2020

the fruit of waiting

All around us we observe a pregnant creation.  The difficult times of pain throughout the world are simply birth pangs.  But it’s not only around u; it’s within us.  The Spirit of God is arousing us within.  We’re also feeling the birth pangs.  These sterile and barren bodies of ours are yearning for full deliverance.  That’s why waiting does not diminish us, any more than waiting diminishes a pregnant mother.  We are enlarged in the waiting.  We, of course, don’t see what is enlarging us.  But the longer we wait, the larger we become, and the more joyful the expectancy. (Romans 8:22-25, The Message)

Waiting is such an interesting phenomenon.  It is a spiritual practice that appears to be passive, yet is far more active than we would ever imagine.  It is a season in which it seems like nothing of value is going on, when the truth is that big things are going on that we know nothing about.  It is a time when it looks like God is up to absolutely nothing, when, in actuality, God is doing something more than we dare to ask for or dream about.  In fact, it is through seasons of waiting that God does some of his very best work, if we are careful not to miss the journey for the destination.
     
The problem is that we often get so focused on the desired results of our waiting that we forget that the bigger, more valuable part of waiting may well involve what God is doing within us as we wait.  That’s the part we miss.  And, yet, it is the only part we can really do anything about—we can pay careful attention.
     
I think that’s why I like this section on Romans 8 so much.  It reminds us that waiting is not as much static, as it is dynamic.  It is always intended to accomplish something, not only around us, but within us.  Through waiting, God is arousing and enlarging and expanding and growing and stretching us.  We just can’t allow ourselves to get so consumed with what we are waiting for, that we miss what he is trying to accomplish in us.    
     
It reminds me of the last scene in the movie Field of Dreams.  Ray has been on an epic adventure, trying to figure out what the voices he has been hearing mean and who they have been leading him to.  At first, he thinks the whole journey is about Shoeless Joe Jackson, and then about Terrance Mann, and then about Moonlight Graham.  Until finally he recognizes that one of the players who has been playing baseball in his field is his dad, as a much younger man.  And when he recognizes his dad, he says, “It was you,” thinking that the entire journey had been about easing his dad’s pain.  But no sooner had these words been spoken, than Shoeless Joe, standing out by the cornfield responds, “No Ray, it was you.”  The whole journey had been about Ray’s healing all along.
     
I don’t know about you, but so often, in my waiting, I make the same mistake.  I think the entire thing is about someone coming around or something coming about, when what God is really trying to get me to notice is what he is doing in me as a result of the waiting.
     
So today, instead of focusing on that thing or that person or that event you have been waiting for, focus instead on what God is doing in you as a result of the waiting.

Saturday, July 25, 2020

becoming less

“My heart is not lifted up, O Lord, my eyes are not raised too high; I do not concern myself with great matters or things too wonderful for me.”(Psalm 131:1)
     
The truth be known, most of us do concern ourselves with great matters.  In fact, we pursue them.  We like to be right in the middle of the action.  We have a need to leave our mark, air our opinions, show our wisdom.  It is what gives us value and worth.
     
The only problem is that that’s not the way the life of the Spirit was meant to be lived.  Life with Jesus is not a life in which we are constantly trying to make a splash, to achieve great things, to make a name for ourselves.  In fact, Jesus did quite the opposite, and calls us to do the same: “Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but emptied himself and made himself nothing,.” (Philippians 2:5-7)
     
King David knew this also, that’s why he did not concern himself with great matters or things too wonderful for him.  He knew the value of humility.  He knew that true spiritual leadership was best exercised by becoming less and making yourself nothing, not by becoming more and constantly trying to make yourself something—which is counter-intuitive in the world in which we live.  In life with Jesus, less is more and small is big and last is first and poor is rich and weak is strong and low is high.  The path to spiritual greatness comes through humbling ourselves.  Thus, humility, or becoming less, is not just something to be embraced, but something to be pursued.
     
That’s why the word David uses in Psalm 131:1 that is most often translated “concern myself with” or “occupy myself with” is halak in the Hebrew, which literally means to walk.  Therefore, probably a better translation of what David is saying is that “I don’t walk after, or pursue, great things or things too wonderful for me.” Which sounds like a small thing, but is really anything but that.  In fact, it is a subtle, yet monumental shift.  No longer is becoming less merely something I have to embrace, as the circumstances of life do their work on me, but it is actually something I am called to actively pursue, just like Jesus did.
     
Thus, the height of the spiritual journey is not about discovering who we are (although that’s important), or even becoming who we are (which is significant as well), but about making ourselves nothing for Jesus.  Life with Jesus, like John the Baptist told us, is about becoming less that he might become all.

Monday, July 20, 2020

from activity to receptivity


Show me your ways. O Lord, teach me your paths; guide me in your truth and teach me, for you are God my Savior, and my hope is in you all day long. (Psalm 25:4-5)

Which word best describes your life, activity or receptivity?

The life of the Spirit is not one of incessant activity, but of continual receptivity.  That means we don’t merely charge off in a direction and hope that God comes along for the ride, we actually start by stopping.  We ask God, as David did, for his wisdom and direction and guidance, then we listen for his answer.  Only then do we spring into action.  Otherwise it is just activity for activity’s sake; which does no one any good.

“When we pray without listening,” Eugene Peterson writes, “we pray out of context.”  That is because it all starts with God, not with us, even in prayer.  Ours is to maintain a stance of humble receptivity, to continually realize that, apart from God’s leadership and guidance, we don’t really know what to do.  Thus, the first movement of the spiritual journey, Bernard of Clairvaux reminds us, is to “cast ourselves at his feet” and to “kneel before the Lord, our maker.”  Only when we start there do we have any real hope of living the life God most wants us to live.  

He guides the humble in what is right and teaches them his way. (Psalm 25:9)