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, April 1, 2020

lessons in irrelevance

Okay, so I’m a bit of a slow learner.  I have been praying Psalm 62 every Wednesday for three years now and it is finally starting to get through to me, especially when you add this odd season of being homebound due to the coronavirus outbreak.

Here’s what I am learning:  I am irrelevant.  And by that I do not meant that I am not relevant and valuable to God; I mean I am not necessary for the survival of the world.  God can manage just fine without me.  If nothing else, the last few weeks of being stuck at home has convinced me that I am not essential to the health and well-being of those I know and love.  Sure, I add something unique and beautiful to their lives, but the truth is that when I’m not around they seem to get along just fine.  And interestingly enough, that is not meant to be morbid or demeaning, it is meant to be freeing and empowering—for both me and them.

You’d have thought I would have learned this lesson by now, simply through praying Psalm 62.  But again, I’m a bit of a slow learner.  The very first words (in the original Hebrew) of the psalm are “Only for God.”  It is the theme of the entire psalm—only for God, only in God, only through God.  There is no God and, just God alone.  And for someone who tries to be relevant every day of his life, that is a bit of a blow to my ego.  I want to be relevant and necessary.  What’s more, I need to be relevant and necessary.  So for someone who needs to be needed, it is a humbling reality.  I guess God is trying to teach me the value of being irrelevant.  I guess he is trying to get me to recognize and embrace that irrelevance, rather than deny and resist it.

There’s an old saying that goes: “If I need you, then I cannot truly love you.”  Until I can release my need to be relevant and impactful, life will always be about me, not about God.  And God works in and through me best when it is all about him and is nothing about me.  So somehow, mysteriously, it is only through embracing my irrelevance that I am actually able to be relevant to what God wants to do in and through me in his kingdom.  I suppose I would do well to remember than.

Sunday, March 29, 2020

if you are willing

A man with leprosy came to him and begged on his knees, “If you are willing, you can make me clean.” (Mark 1:40) 

Okay, I have to be honest, I’ve never been a big “name it, claim it” type of guy when it comes to prayer.  That mentality just seems to be a lot more about “my will be done” than it does about “Thy will be done.”  I think that’s why I love this scene in Mark’s gospel so much.  It is such a great example of how to come humbly and submissively before the throne of God with a desperate plea. 

This needy, hurting, broken man comes to Jesus, falls on his knees, and begs for healing.  But it is the way he does it that I love.  I love his posture, I love his request, and I love how Jesus responds.  It offers such a great image for prayer.  It makes me wonder if Jesus would be really pleased if we all approached him in this way.  It was raw and passionate and real, yet held no demand.  It carried no sense of entitlement or obligation.  And it did not seem to be wrought with a sense of trying to manipulate God into doing what the leprous man wanted.  It was simply a broken person, in great need, falling on his knees before the God who made him, and begging that God to intervene on his behalf—if he was willing.  That is the key.

“I know you can,” states the requestor.  “That is, if you are willing to.”  Almost as if to say: “I know you can, O God.  I know you are able.  I know you have the power to help.  But I need to ask, in your great wisdom, if you are willing.”  What a great prayer!  It puts the ball clearly in God’s court.  It leaves our circumstances completely under his control and care.  It reminds us that it is his will that counts the most, not our own.  No one knew this better than Jesus: “Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done.” (Luke 22:42)  And Paul had the same experience when he pleaded with the Lord to take away his “thorn in the flesh,” but the only response he received was: “My grace is sufficient for you.” (2 Cor. 12:9) 

Years ago I had the privilege, with a group of friends, to sit under the teaching of a wise and wonderful man; a man who was well into his nineties and had been following Jesus for over seventy years.  He was intimately familiar with the ways and the practices of prayer.  During one of our sessions together, one of my friends asked him to describe his prayer life, and I will never forget what he said.  Part of his answer had to do with how he prayed for certain things and people.  “When someone asks me to pray for something,” he said, “I don’t immediately begin praying for exactly what they asked me to, I take it to the Lord first and ask him how he wants me to pray for that person or circumstance.  Then, after I have received an answer from the Lord, I pray.  That way I am able to pray in line with his will, not merely the will of the one who had asked me to pray.” 

And there you have it.  “If you are willing, you can make me clean,” said the man who was covered with leprosy.  And Jesus’ response was priceless: “I am willing.  Be clean!”  Thanks be to God.

Lord Jesus, teach me how to pray.  Thank you that you can do all things.  Give me the strength and the courage and the grace to ask, like the leper, if you are willing.  And help me to fully accept whatever answer you may give, knowing that you love me deeply and will care for me fully, at all times and in all ways.  Thank you that, regardless of my circumstances, I can fully trust in you.  Amen.

Friday, March 27, 2020

blossoming

“I will be like dew to Israel; he will blossom like a lily. . . .  He will flourish like the grain.  He will blossom like a vine. . .” (Hosea 14:5, 7) 

The book of Hosea ends with a simple invitation: “Return, O Israel, to the Lord your God.”  And if we take God up on that invitation, it tells us, in rich imagery, what the results will be: flourishing and blossoming.  If we return to the Lord, we will become all that we were intended to be.  A flower’s entire purpose is to blossom.  It is the culmination of a long and arduous process—and a beautiful one at that.

Years ago we planted lilies by our mailbox.  When we planted them, we knew that it would take a while for them to bud and bloom and blossom.  For months we would go to the mailbox to get the mail and see nothing, just the barren landscape of winter.  But then one day, suddenly it seemed, the green sprouts poked their heads out of the ground and we were able to watch them grow each day.  It was the first hint we’d had that something was going on under the surface of the soil all of those days and weeks and months.  But once those green shoots finally appeared, the anticipation began to grow, until the day when they finally opened their heads to the sun and blossomed into all they were intended to be.  It wasn’t until then that we were able to fully see and fully appreciate their true beauty.

And Hosea promises us the same.  Although we are living at a time and in a season where it is hard to imagine anything beautiful blooming or blossoming, God is still at work silently, beneath the surface of our lives, growing us and preparing us to bloom and to blossom when the spring finally arrives.  He promises us that if we will return to the Lord our God—not just once or twice, but always again—we too will see a day when we become all that he intended for us to be.  We too will bud and blossom and flourish.  We too will show the world the beauty and the majesty that we were meant to reflect.  It is what we were created for.

Which begs the question: What does returning to the Lord your God look like for you these days?  How is God inviting you to become all that you were intended to be?  And where in your life are you seeing a blossoming?  Where in your life is the Lord growing you into something beautiful and alive and vibrant?

Thank you, O Lord, that blossoming is exactly what you had in mind for us when you breathed us into being.  You did not have to make us that way, but thank you that you did.  Help us, O Lord, to return to you each and every day, so that we might become all that we were intended to be—beautiful reflections of your life, love, and creativity.  Amen.

Thursday, March 26, 2020

a prayer of waiting


O Lord, keep us from doing, 
just for the sake of doing.  
Keep us from springing into action, 
simply because we have no better alternative.  
Keep us from manufacturing and creating, 
when should be sitting still 
and depending on you to move and act.  
Keep us from spinning our wheels,
 just for the sake of spinning them.  
We can do nothing apart from you, O Lord, 
so help us just to be still and wait for you.  
Amen.

Tuesday, March 24, 2020

blocking and walling

“Therefore I will block her path with thornbushes; I will wall her in so that she cannot find her way.  She will chase after other lovers but will not catch them; she will look for them but not find them.” (Hosea 2:6-7)

What are we to think about a God who would block our path or wall us in?  Unless, of course, that blocking or walling is ultimately for our good.  Otherwise, it would be easy to feel hurt or frustrated.  Otherwise, it might just seem cold and cruel and heartless--even spiteful.  

But we know better than that, for we know your heart.  We know that you made us out of love, for love—to love and to be loved beyond measure.  Therefore, any blocking or walling has to be for our greater good.  It has to be your way of alluring us.  What if the whole reason you led us into the desert in the first place was so that you could speak tenderly to us?  What if this blocking and walling was all part of this alluring?  That would change everything.  That would show us that you love us too much to allow us chase after lovers who cannot possibly satisfy the deepest longings of our heart.

If that, O God, is why you block and wall, then, by all means, block and wall away!  Thank you that your heart for me is so deep and so full of love that you cannot allow me to settle for less than the life and the love you created me for.  You would rather block my path or wall me in than allow me to run off in search of other lovers.  All so that you could lead me into the desert and speak tenderly to me.  Thank you that you love me that much.  Amen.

Monday, March 23, 2020

stopping lessons

For thus said the Lord God, the Holy One of Israel, “In returning and rest you shall be saved; in quietness and trust shall be your strength.” But you were unwilling. . . .” (Isaiah 30:15, ESV)

Does it seem bizarre to you that we, for some unfathomable reason, would be unwilling to stop and rest?  That we would have to be “made” to lie down in green pastures (Psalm 23:2) or to be "led" to sit beside quiet waters?  Why is it so hard for us to stop?  Is it because we don’t want to, or because we just don’t know how?  I think we need stopping lessons.

Imagine how terrifying it would be if, when we were being taught to ride a bike, we never learned how to stop.  In that case, we would have only two options available.  We could either keep on going (forever), or we could crash.  Unfortunately, choosing option number one always leads to option number two—to keep going and going and going is not a sustainable solution.

I remember when my wife and I tried snow skiing for the very first time.  I mean, it looked easy enough, right?  And since we had a chalet right on the slopes we decided to forgo any type of lessons and just go for it.  We put on our boots and our skis, went out of our chalet to the slope that was just outside our door, and took off down the hill.  Going is a breeze, right?  It is all physics and gravity.  But as we picked up speed heading down the hill, both of us realized that we didn’t know how to stop.  I’m guessing that was probably lesson number one in ski school.  And so we began to look for the softest and safest place to crash, which we did—skis and poles going every which way.  I think even my gloves came off.  It was not pretty, nor fun.

Stopping is an essential part of life.  That’s probably why God made it a part of his weekly rhythm.  It’s what Sabbath is all about.  In fact, the Hebrew word for Sabbath simply means to stop.  God worked six days and then God stopped, and he rested.  Why would we think that we, who were made in his image, would be any different?  In fact, God tells us that it is “in returning and rest we shall be saved.”  Somehow it is in returning to God and resting in him, and his work and his care, that we actually find our own salvation.  It is not something we have to work for or achieve or earn, but something that can only be received freely.  Thus, we can stop and rest.  In fact, we must.

Which is funny because somehow I think we see stopping and resting as a weakness.  In our culture they are not held in high regard.  We are so resistant to stopping and resting because they force us to be dependent on something, or Someone, else for our salvation and our honor (Psalm 62:7).  Which makes us trust in God, rather than in our own gifts and efforts, and we do not like that.  We do not like things being out of our control.  But ultimately, whether we like it or not, the biggest things in life are out of our control.  And if nothing else, the last few weeks has been ample evidence of that.  So we must begin to learn to rely on God, to trust in him; which means that we are going to have to learn how to stop.  Stop relying on ourselves, stop trying to do it all ourselves, and stop trusting in ourselves.

Learning how to stop begins with belief—really being convinced that God is both strong and loving, just like he says he is (Psalm 62:11-12).  He is both able and willing to help us.  Learning how to stop comes from really believing that we truly are his beloved.  Our worth and value is solely determined by him and his great love for us.  We do not have to do anything to earn it, he loves us simply because we are his.  Thus, we do not have to constantly try to prove to ourselves and our world that we are worth loving.  And finally, learning to stop means that these truths begin to take shape in our lives.  They give us the freedom to slow down, to make space, to breathe.  The freedom to be the best, God-breathed, version of ourselves.  They allow us to run at a pace that is healthy and sustainable, pumping the brakes when life seems to be getting out of control.  They help us to operate out of love rather than out of need.  And they help us to acknowledge the fact that everything is not up to us, but up to God.  We are not meant to do everything, just the things he has specifically called us to.

I wonder if that might be a little of what God is trying to teach us these days—how to stop.