Sunday, December 29, 2013

seeking

Then Herod summoned the wise men secretly and ascertained from them what time the star had appeared.  And he sent them to Bethlehem, saying, “Go and search diligently for the child, and when you have found him, bring me word, that I too may come and worship him.”  After listening to the king, they went on their way. And behold, the star that they had seen when it rose went before them until it came to rest over the place where the child was.  When they saw the star, they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy.  And going into the house they saw the child with Mary his mother, and they fell down and worshiped him. Then, opening their treasures, they offered him gifts, gold and frankincense and myrrh. (Matthew 2:7-11)


The contrast is pretty striking.  But, in all honestly, I'm not sure I would have seen it if I wasn't shown it at church this morning.  On the one hand you have the Magi, the three wise men who came from the east and followed the star, until it came to rest over the place where the child (Jesus) was.  We are not told much about them: where they were specifically from, how many miles they had traveled, or how long it had taken them.  But we can well imagine that it had been a long and grueling journey.  Some scholars estimate that the three travelers had ventured as many as 800 miles in search of the new born King, which could've taken in excess of 80 days.  If nothing else, these guys were serious about seeking. 

King Herod, on the other hand, lived about six miles from Bethlehem.  And even though he was so close to the place where the God of the universe had just entered into His creation, he was unwilling to go see it for himself.  In fact, Herod told the Magi to go and search, and, if they found anything, to come back and let him know about it.  He wasn't about to go through all the trouble of seeking God on his own.  "Let someone else do the work, and then let them tell me what they find." he must've figured. 

Unfortunately, that attitude still seems to live on to this day, because true seeking requires a lot of us, especially when we are talking about seeking God.  In fact, it requires all of us.  There is no half way.  There is no letting someone else do the work and then telling us what they have found.  It is impossible to seek God second hand.  Someone else cannot do it for us.  We must go.  We must embark on the journey, no matter what the length, regardless of what the cost.  We must be like the wise men, rather than like King Herod.  We must be willing to seek Him, for only then will we be totally and completely captured by the object of our seeking--Jesus.  Only then will we rejoice exceedingly and be filled with great joy.  Only then will we fall down and worship him, opening our treasures to him and offering him all that we have and all that we are.  As the prophet Jeremiah so appropriately reminds us; "You will seek me and find me, when you seek me with all your heart.  I will be found by you, declares the Lord..." (Jeremiah 29:13-14). 




O my God, teach me to seek you, for I cannot seek you unless you teach me, or find you unless you show yourself to me.  Let me seek you in my desire, and desire you in my seeking.  Let me find you by loving you, let me love you when I find you.  (St. Anselm of Canterbury)

Saturday, December 28, 2013

following the star

Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, wise men from the east came to Jerusalem, saying, “Where is he who has been born king of the Jews? For we saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.”  When Herod the king heard this, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him; and assembling all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Christ was to be born.  They told him, “In Bethlehem of Judea, for so it is written by the prophet:

     “‘And you, O Bethlehem, in the land of Judah,
         are by no means least among the rulers of Judah;
      for from you shall come a ruler
         who will shepherd my people Israel.’”
 
Then Herod summoned the wise men secretly and ascertained from them what time the star had appeared.  And he sent them to Bethlehem, saying, “Go and search diligently for the child, and when you have found him, bring me word, that I too may come and worship him.”  After listening to the king, they went on their way. And behold, the star that they had seen when it rose went before them until it came to rest over the place where the child was.  When they saw the star, they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy.  And going into the house they saw the child with Mary his mother, and they fell down and worshiped him. Then, opening their treasures, they offered him gifts, gold and frankincense and myrrh.  And being warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they departed to their own country by another way. (Matthew 2:1-12)
 
 
Will there be a star, O Lord, for me to follow this day?  One that will lead me to the place where you have been born within my heart, or within my world, waiting for me to bow and worship, and open my treasures to you?  Give me eyes to see.  Give me courage to follow.  And give me grace to discover where, and how, you have been born once again this day.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

venite


Come to us, Holy and Infinite God; be for us a Reality small enough to be grasped and yet great enough to be adored; expand our small hearts to make room for your unlimited love and reign in all human hearts as the Prince of Peace. (Advent with Evelyn Underhill)



Sunday, December 22, 2013

low estate

46 And Mary said,
“My soul magnifies the Lord,
47     and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
48 for he has looked on the humble estate of his servant.
    For behold, from now on all generations will call me blessed;
49 for he who is mighty has done great things for me,
    and holy is his name.
50 And his mercy is for those who fear him
    from generation to generation.
51 He has shown strength with his arm;
    he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts;
52 he has brought down the mighty from their thrones
    and exalted those of humble estate;
53 he has filled the hungry with good things,
    and the rich he has sent away empty.
54 He has helped his servant Israel,
    in remembrance of his mercy,
55 as he spoke to our fathers,
    to Abraham and to his offspring forever.”
 
                                              ~Luke 1:46-55
 
 
Magnificat.  It is a Latin word which means [My soul] magnifies.  It is also the name by which this prayer of Mary has been known through the ages.  It is truly one of the great prayers of all time.  It is the prayer of an innocent and obedient young girl who decided to say yes to God, even in the most ridiculous, challenging, and overwhelming of circumstances.  It is a prayer of trust.  It is a prayer of surrender.  But most of all it is a prayer of total openness.  It is a prayer that reveals a heart that is held wide open to whatever God might desire, and to however he might choose to show up.  It is a prayer that literally says, Come, Lord Jesus!  Come to us, come among us, come be born in us.  It is a prayer of invitation.  And if we too desire God to be born in us this day, and this season, maybe it is a prayer we should pay attention to as well.  Because for God to be born in us there seems a certain posture that is required.  It seems that God has a preference for the lowly, the vulnerable, and the small.  It is in those kinds of places that he seems most likely to be born.  Just look at the prayer: My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has looked on the humble estate of his servant.  And then a little later: he has brought down the mighty from their thrones and exalted those of humble estate.  The word used here for humble comes from the root tapeinos which means "to make low."  Somehow Mary's low estate provided the perfect heart (womb) for God to be born in.  Somehow there was room in that kind of heart, room that is typically taken up in those of us that are full of ourselves.  Taken up with our pride, and our ambition, and our reputation.  It seems that the proud, the rulers, and the rich have a difficult time making space within them for this to birth to occur.  Therefore, may we never become too big, or too high, or too occupied to miss what (and how) Jesus wants to come to us this season; how he wants to be born in us.  May we pray this incredible prayer, both in word and in spirit, with Mary, that our hearts might be open and prepared to receive him, whenever and however he comes.
 

Saturday, December 14, 2013

forgetting

“Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past.  See, I am doing a new thing!  Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? (Isaiah 43:18-19)


Most often in the scriptures it seems like we are called upon to remember, and rightly so.  We are called upon to remember how God has moved and how he has worked on our behalf.  We are called upon to remember how he has provided for our needs and how he has guided our paths over the course of our lifetime, as well as that of our ancestors.  We are called upon to remember how he has protected us from our enemies, defended us from peril, and fought for us when we were too weak, or powerless, or exhausted to fight for ourselves.  Remembering is a very good thing.

But, interestingly enough, in this instance we are actually called upon to forget.  Forgetting, it seems, is also a significant part of the spiritual journey.  Especially when we are being called upon to forget one thing, in order that God can begin to do a new thing.  Because somehow not forgetting the former things actually keeps us from being able to perceive the new thing that is being born within us or among us.  But how are we to know when we are to do one versus the other?  What does it mean to forget the former things?  And what things are we really talking about here?

Maybe what God is really trying to get at in this passage is the idea that, at times, we have the tendency to hold onto the old at the expense of the new.  And when I say old, I am not just referring to the old in a negative sense, I am also referring to old in a more positive way.  We seem to have the tendency to think that just because God acted in one particular way, at a particular time and place, that he will always act in just that way.  We tend to expect and demand, and even try to determine, how and where and when God will show up in our current story.  The problem with that is it keeps us from being open to the new thing God seems to be birthing within and among us. 

If we hold too tightly to the way things "always have been," or to the ways that God always has come thus far, we shut ourselves off to the new thing that he is trying to do.  Therefore, we must forget.  But forgetting the former things does not mean forgetting what God has done, maybe it means only forgetting the way in which he has done them.  We should not come to expect, or demand, that he always do things in that particular way from here on out.  In that sense don't dwell on the past might actually mean don't live in the past.  Do not limit your vision for, or your openness to, what God might be up to and how he might be up to it.  Don't always expect that he will show up exactly the same way as he did before, or in exactly the same form.  If you do that, you will likely miss the new that he is trying to bring about. 

The season of Advent is that time where we are encouraged to always be ready for however and wherever and whenever God might come.  Because he will come.  A friend of mine reminded me this week that, "We come into Advent this year different than we did the last.  We are different people, in a different place, with a different set of circumstances."  A lot of water has passed under our bridge since we last came to the season of watching and waiting.  So, if we are different people, wouldn't it make sense that God would want to come to us in a new and different way?  A way that addresses the time and the place and the season we now find ourselves living in?  Therefore, we must not stubbornly cling to our old ways and demands and expectations, but we must be open to receiving this new thing that we, thus far, have not perceived.  In some way, we must become a blank page, waiting to be filled.  The problem is that being a blank page is vulnerable and uncomfortable.  Thus, we have a tendency to fill our pages at any and every opportunity.  Therefore, during this season, it might actually take some emptying before we are able to perceive, and then receive, this new thing.  That's where the forgetting comes in.  It could be that the story of the nativity has grown so familiar to us that we have forgotten that one of the essential elements of the story in the first place is that God came in a way and a form and a place that no one expected.  Should we expect that this Advent and Christmas will be any different? 

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

the coming of the light

In him was life, and the life was the light of men.  The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. (John 1:4-5)


I've been thinking a lot about darkness and light the past few days.  In fact, I have been becoming more keenly aware of the darkness that lives within me.  Most often it takes the form of fear and insecurity, anxiety and depression.  It can take me right down into the pit of despair.  I mean, how in the world do you fight such a beast?  It is so deep at times that it actually seems like a part of my DNA, and when it takes hold of me it seems almost impossible to overcome its grip, much less consider the possibility of eliminating it completely.  That can leave me in a very helpless place. 

I think that is one of the reasons I like Advent so much, it is a season of hope.  Advent promises that it is actually into the midst of my darkness that the light will come.  I do not have to eliminate the darkness within me--which would seem an impossible task--all I have to do is simply wait and watch for the coming of the Light.  He will come, and when he does the darkness will not be able to overcome Him.  So shine on me, O Light.  Come into my darkness and illumine my night with your life and love and peace.  Come, O Light of God!  Come, Lord Jesus!

Thursday, December 5, 2013

waking

But make sure that you don’t get so absorbed and exhausted in taking care of all your day-by-day obligations that you lose track of the time and doze off, oblivious to God. The night is about over, dawn is about to break. Be up and awake to what God is doing! God is putting the finishing touches on the salvation work he began when we first believed. We can’t afford to waste a minute, must not squander these precious daylight hours in frivolity and indulgence, in sleeping around and dissipation, in bickering and grabbing everything in sight. Get out of bed and get dressed! Don’t loiter and linger, waiting until the very last minute. Dress yourselves in Christ, and be up and about! (Romans 13:11-14 The Message)




“Our spiritual life depends on his perpetual coming to us, far more than on our going to him. Every time a channel is made for him he comes; every time our hearts are open to him he enters, bringing a fresh gift of his very life, and on that life we depend. We should think of the whole power and splendor of God as always pressing in upon our small souls.”

 
                                                                                        –Evelyn Underhill



Help me, Holy God, to bring life under your control with a plan and pattern that reminds me of your presence and makes me more responsive to your will. (Advent with Evelyn Underhill)

Saturday, November 30, 2013

wake up

11 And do this, understanding the present time: The hour has already come for you to wake up from your slumber, because our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed. 12 The night is nearly over; the day is almost here. So let us put aside the deeds of darkness and put on the armor of light. (Romans 13:11-12)



It is amazing how easily we can get lulled to sleep at times.  And if you think it is easy for us, imagine the people of God trying to stay awake through four hundred years of God's silence.  I guess that's why the season of Advent is so significant, because it asks us to stay awake and to wait in eager expectation, anticipating Christ's return at any moment.  It is an actively passive waiting, if that's possible.  We cannot control how, or when, or where He will come, so, in that sense, it must be passive.  We can, however, control how we will wait.  Therefore, it must also always be active.  We must stay on our toes, or on our tiptoes one might say.  We must be on the edge of our seats, and not settled back into the comfort and ease of our La-Z-Boy.  We must stay ready, both watching and waiting.  That is the kind of wakefulness that Advent calls for.  We must keep our spiritual wits about us.  We must be careful to do the things that keep our souls most awake and alert, whatever those things may be.  Because, ultimately, Christ will come.  And when he does, will he find us ready?  Let us pay careful attention therefore, during this time and this season, for the many ways in which he comes.  He will, in fact, come to us today.  And, if we are paying careful attention, maybe we will see him, and hear him, when he does.  One can only hope.  





Friday, November 29, 2013

spiritual paralysis

A few days later, when Jesus again entered Capernaum, the people heard that he had come home. They gathered in such large numbers that there was no room left, not even outside the door, and he preached the word to them.  Some men came, bringing to him a paralyzed man, carried by four of them.  Since they could not get him to Jesus because of the crowd, they made an opening in the roof above Jesus by digging through it and then lowered the mat the man was lying on.  When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralyzed man, “Son, your sins are forgiven.”
     Now some teachers of the law were sitting there, thinking to themselves, “Why does this fellow talk like that? He’s blaspheming! Who can forgive sins but God alone?”
     Immediately Jesus knew in his spirit that this was what they were thinking in their hearts, and he said to them, “Why are you thinking these things?  Which is easier: to say to this paralyzed man, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Get up, take your mat and walk’?  But I want you to know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins.” So he said to the man, “I tell you, get up, take your mat and go home.”  He got up, took his mat and walked out in full view of them all. This amazed everyone and they praised God, saying, “We have never seen anything like this!” (Mark 2:1-12)


Imagine being one of the guys carrying the mat of this paralyzed man.  What do you think it would've been like to be on this journey?  What do you think was their main motivation?  They must have cared deeply for their paralyzed friend to have dreamt up such a scheme.  We are not told how many of them there were in total, only that four of them were carrying him.  Did they switch off?  Or did these four carry him the whole way?  And how far did they have to carry him?  It must have been exhausting.  And can you imagine getting to the house and realizing that you couldn't get inside?  What now?  And who was the one to come up with the idea of going to the roof?  And how did the homeowner feel about that when he saw pieces of his roof falling to the floor inside?  And after all of the hurdles were cleared, and their friend finally lay at Jesus' feet, how did they feel when they heard him say the words, "Son, your sins are forgiven."?  Did they think to themselves, or say out loud for that matter, "It's his legs.  The problem is with his legs."

But Jesus knew better.  Jesus knew that the real problem was much deeper than his legs, because his paralysis was only a symptom of a much larger issue--as it is with each of us.  Our paralysis, most likely, is not physical like this particular man's, but it is no less a reality.  Our paralysis is most likely emotional and, ultimately, spiritual.  But at the root of this paralysis, as with the man in Mark 2, lies the issue of sin.  The two are intimately linked. 

Now I do not know what your paralysis looks like, it is a little different for everyone it seems, but I am pretty aware of my own.  I usually only recognize it after it is a good bit down the road; after the gravitational pull of the old self towards darkness, sadness, loneliness, and depression has been going on for a little while and I am beginning to feel a little stuck.  It is a downward spiral really, but a slow one that I do not recognize until a good bit of life and energy has already been drained out of me.  And maybe the most telling sign is a feeling that I have lost some sense of being able to "Get up."  It's like something has grabbed hold of me and is weighing me down, and "getting up" (whatever that may look like) feels like an almost impossible task.  And it only seems to gain momentum: the longer it lasts, the stronger it seems to become.

Luckily Jesus knows the link between, "Your sins are forgiven" and "Get up, take your mat and walk."  He knows that the deeper issue must be taken care of before the more surface issues can be resolved.  He says to me, "Son, your sins are forgiven." just the way he did to the paralyzed man.  He reminds me that, first and foremost, I am his son and he loves me immensely.  This knowledge empowers me by speaking to the true self that he has created me to be.  This truth cuts right to my core, reminding me of who I truly am, as well as who I am not.  His love and his forgiveness then offer me the strength and ability to do what he desires for me the most, to Get up, take up my mat and walk.  It is as if he were saying to me:  "Do not sit any longer in this helpless paralysis, for I have given you my love and my forgiveness, which breaks the chains of your stuckness and allows you the ability to rise and leave the mat, and the paralysis, behind and walk in newness of life."

Therefore I must listen to his call daily to do just that...and I must respond.  I must consistently choose, by his power, to Get up.  

In the process, I also need to pay careful attention to the typical patterns of my heart and soul, and constantly be asking myself several diagnostic questions: When am I at my best spiritually?  When I am thriving spiritually, what factors are consistently present?  When am I at my worst?  And what factors contribute most significantly to that?  What are my warning signs that I am slipping into darkness and spiritual paralysis?  What are the things I must do regularly to create the space that helps keep me (by God's grace) in a good spiritual place?    

And then, in the end, maybe my result will be much like his: He got up, took his mat and walked out in full view of them all. This amazed everyone and they praised God, saying, “We have never seen anything like this!”  Thanks be to God!


Tuesday, November 26, 2013

news

In case you're interested, as of this morning my new book Becoming is available on Amazon.com.

His Peace to you,
Jim

Monday, November 25, 2013

rhythm

When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” He said to him, “Feed my lambs.”  He said to him a second time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” He said to him, “Tend my sheep.”  He said to him the third time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” Peter was grieved because he said to him the third time, “Do you love me?” and he said to him, “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my sheep.  Truly, truly, I say to you, when you were young, you used to dress yourself and walk wherever you wanted, but when you are old, you will stretch out your hands, and another will dress you and carry you where you do not want to go.” (This he said to show by what kind of death he was to glorify God.) And after saying this he said to him, “Follow me.” (John 21:15-19)


A very wise man once said, "Only he who obeys a rhythm superior to his own in free."  I wonder if that was a little of what Jesus was trying to teach Simon Peter as they walked together on the beach only days after the resurrection?  Of course he was doing much more than that.  Of course he was offering a beautiful restoration to Peter, giving him three opportunities to profess his love after the three times he had denied he even knew Jesus only days ago.  And of course he was trying to teach Peter that the most important question in all of the spiritual life is "Do you truly love me more than these?"  Whatever these may be.  And of course he was trying to show Peter that in the days and weeks, and even years, ahead that undying, passionate love for Jesus is the only way to truly feed the sheep without feeding on the sheep.  But I also have to wonder if one of the main things he was really trying to teach Peter was that until our lives are ordered and determined by Jesus' love and His kingdom, then we really aren't following Him at all, but only following ourselves.  I think that's why he makes that disturbing statement in verses 18-19.  Almost as if to say, Okay, okay, when you were younger you kind of called your own shots and determined your own agenda.  But when you get older, when your life of faith grows and matures, you must put yourself completely under my control.  That's what this life of faith is really all about.  You must stretch out your empty hands and let me do all the leading.  You must operate by my plans, my agenda.  I must be the one that determines how and where you spend your days, even if it means going to places that you'd rather not go.  That's what following me really looks like.  There is a shift that must take place deeply within you; a shift from leading to being led.  First you get led (by Me), then, and only then, you lead.  How incredibly challenging.  So the question for me becomes: "Who or what determines my rhythm each day?"  Because only he who obeys a rhythm superior to his own is free.

Saturday, November 23, 2013

turnings

 

it seems that life
is a series of turnings
ever so subtle
and often unnoticed
until we find ourselves
on the far reaches
of the life
we most deeply long for
wondering how we ever
ended up this far away

we only let go of intention
for a short time
or so it seemed
but now we find ourselves
living on the circumference
rather than in the center

and how do we now begin
to find our way back
from the outer edges
to the heart of life

maybe by the same way
we came to this distant land
by turning
not once
not twice
but always again
ever back
to the One
from which we came
consistently turning
ever back to you

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

ministry

Clearly, clearly, my job here is not to go to the town plaza and make proselytes, it is to live wrapped in God, trembling to His thoughts, burning with His passion.  And, my loved one, that is the best gift you can give to your own town.
                                                                                    ~Frank Laubach


And my soul breathes a deep Yes!  That's it!  That's what true ministry is all about.  In its purest form, ministry can only be an outward expression of an inward reality.  Apart from that, apart from what God is doing within us, and around us, it is just smoke and mirrors.  Apart from the life of His Spirit within us, we have absolutely nothing of substance to offer those who are dying for something of substance.  To live a life wrapped in God as you go about your daily rounds, and to live in relationship with those that cross your path, that is the essence of ministry!  When life, and voice, and relationship all sing in perfect harmony.  When heart, and soul, and spirit, are so full of God that they overflow, spilling over, and drenching all who are near with the life and fullness of God, trembling to His thoughts, burning with His passion.  That is ministry.    

Thursday, October 31, 2013

obstacle or opportunity

To be able to look backward and say, "This, this has been the finest year of my life"--that is glorious!  But anticipation!  To be able to look ahead and say, "The present year can and shall be better!"--that is more glorious!
                                                                                ~Frank Laubach


Do you typically look forward with a sense of excitement or a sense of dread?  My guess is that the answer to this question has a lot to do with the what that you are actually facing in the days, weeks, or months ahead.  I have found recently that I seem to look forward to most things, but that there are always a few things looming out there that fill me with a sense of dread and drain the life and joy out of--or at the very least overshadow--those things that I am excited about and looking forward to.  It is strange the power I give these things I dread, that I would allow them to rob me, and determine both my mood and my mindset for weeks, if not months, in advance.  I think it has a lot to do with how I see things. 

When Frank Laubach wrote the quote above, it was after one of the hardest, loneliest years of his life.  But somehow, even in the midst of such a difficult place and time, he was able to see the beauty of it all, and what God was at work doing both in and through him.  And not only was he able to see the beauty of the past, but he was able to look forward to the year to come with equal optimism and enthusiasm.  This optimism is not just a blind, unfounded, baseless sense that "things will all be okay," but a deep trust in and recognition of the fact that, as Romans 8 reminds us, "In all things God works...."  Therefore, those things, either in our distant past or our foreseeable future, can be seen in one of two ways.  They can either be viewed as obstacles, or as opportunities.

Now, I will have to admit, that more often than not when I look to those things on the horizon that cause me a significant amount of angst, or anxiety, or fear, I typically look at them as obstacles that must be overcome--or at the very least tolerated and survived--rather than as opportunities for God to show up and work in amazing and transforming ways.  And how I look at these things has everything to do with the attitude, or outlook on life, I carry with me until those things have come to pass or been laid to rest.  I have found that when I view things--and sometimes even people to be honest--as obstacles, I tend to live life with a constant sense of frustration and irritation.  And when I look under the surface of those negative feelings, it just gets uglier.  Because I have found that for myself, underneath this obstacle-oriented viewpoint, lies a spirit of entitlement, demandingness, ingratitude and self-centeredness.  You talk about ugly.  That is really ugly.

In stark contrast, when I am able to make the transition to seeing these things more as opportunities--both for God to work and for me to love--I live from a much more beautiful place; that place exhibited in the life of Frank Laubach.  It allows me to live life with a sense of joy and anticipation and excitement, which breeds a spirit of gratitude, and humility, and peace.  All of life becomes a gift and the pursuit of life becomes a joyful adventure in being loved by God and loving him in return.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

seen

But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him. (Luke 15:20)


I have a group of friends I visit regularly.  Well, when I say regularly, I mean every day.  And although I love this group of friends dearly, and make a point to be with them every single day, oftentimes, probably because of regularity and familiarity, I can drop by for a visit and wonder if any of them really know, or care, that I am there.  In fact, there are days when I feel invisible.  Now, I know the benefits of invisible (see this post) and am mindful enough most days about those benefits to actually have the grace and the wisdom to lean into its invitation when it occurs. 

But there is something else I've begun to notice recently.  There is another side to this whole story.  There is also a longing deep within it.  And a longing that I think was designed to draw us towards God.  It is the longing to be seen.  Deep within each one of us, I believe there is a yearning to be seen; to be noticed, to be acknowledged, to be recognized, and ultimately to be known.  When we are seen, it lets us know that we have value, that we are important, that we are somebody, even though our deepest fears would tell us quite the opposite.  So when we are seen, it touches something deeply within us that was actually created to be touched.  It brings something to life within our souls.  Now obviously we can (and do) attempt to satisfy this longing in all kinds of illegitimate ways--that is ways that were never intended to fully satisfy that longing--but at the core of it all, it touches something within us that was put there by God.

That's why I love that when the lost son (of Luke 15) is on his way home from a land and a life where he was just a part of the dingy, dirty terrain, the first thing that happens in his return is that he is seen.  The Father sees him.  That means the Father was actually looking for him, thinking of him, yearning for his presence, and his company, and his return.  And what do you imagine was in the Father's eyes?  When He finally saw his son out there, way down the road, still a long way off, what happened in His heart had to have come out through His eyes.  And when the son saw His face; saw that he was seen, he knew immediately what was in the Father's heart--delight. 

How do you imagine God sees you?  What is in His eyes for you?  The answer to that question will tell you a lot about what you really believe to be true about God.  Are His eyes filled with disappointment, and disdain, and frustration?  Or are His eyes filled, as they were here, with love and joy and delight?  I think that's why Jesus tells this story to begin with.  Because the people had begun to believe something that was simply not true about the Father.  So he gives them/us a rich visual of how our God really sees us.  And in our heart of hearts what we most deeply long for is to be seen in just that way.  Thanks be to God! 

Monday, October 14, 2013

accepted

When the teachers of the law who were Pharisees saw him eating with the "sinners" and tax collectors, they asked his disciples, "Why does he eat with tax collectors and "sinners?" (Mark 2:16)


Thank you, Dear Jesus, that you eat with "sinners."  It gives me hope; not just for my friends, but for myself.  The Greek word for sinner used here is hamartolos which comes from the verb hamartano which means to miss the mark.  It is the word for those of us who fall short, don't measure up, can't hit the target.  That's me!  Thank you, Dear Jesus, that you accept me.  Thank you, Dear Jesus, that you accept the unacceptable.  It gives me hope that I don't somehow need to make myself acceptable before you will accept me.  Because I cannot. 

It also makes me ask myself some hard questions, like: Do I really believe I am totally and completely accepted by you?  Even though you accept me, are there still certain levels on which I feel unacceptable?  Are there certain ways I even resist being accepted by you?  And why in the world would I do that?  Even when you accept me, though I am woefully unacceptable, do I still demand that others be acceptable before I will accept them?  Are there certain people that I still refuse to allow to be accepted?  Thank you, Dear Jesus, that you eat with "sinners."

Monday, September 30, 2013

to be celebrated

I am the team chaplain (or whatever you call it) for our high school football team in our community.  It is a role I have held and cherished for the past eleven years or so.  During that time, I have been so blessed and privileged to be a part of the lives of so many wonderful people; folks that have cared for, marked, and communicated Christ to me in so many ways.  As a matter of fact, I'm pretty sure that what I have received from being a part of this wonderful community is so much greater than what I have actually given to it.  Which at times, if I'm brutally honest, makes me wonder if someone else in this role might be a better gift to them than I am.  I am often tempted to think, at age 53, that someone younger and more energetic, more winsome and outgoing, might have more of an impact on the lives of kids and coaches for the Kingdom than I do/have over the years.  More on this later.

This past Friday we had an away game at the home of a bitter rival.  Although their record was better, and they were ranked higher, we, in a valiant effort, pulled off the victory.  One of our players, Derric (not his real name), had an incredible night--both on offense and defense--and was one of the major reasons we were victorious.  Another one of my high school friends, Caleb (not his real name either) had a not so good night.  In fact, he didn't get to play at all.  And during the course of the game he just became sadder and sadder.  Every time I walked by I tried to encourage him, and get him to enjoy the fact that we were winning a huge game, but he continually refused to enter into "celebration mode." 

After the game was over, since it was a bitter rival with whom we have a history of animosity, all of the fans were held off of the field and not able to join the players in their post game celebration.  Therefore they all stood by the gate and waited for the players as they came off the field.  As the players walked off the field, the contrast was too much not to notice: even for me:)  First, here came Caleb and many of the other players who didn't get a chance to participate in the game.  As they walked out of the gate and past all of the fans they got a warm greeting, but no one specifically congratulated them, or patted them on the back, or cheered their names; which I'm sure sent Caleb further into the downward spiral.  Then the more veteran players (the ones who had contributed a little more directly and visibly to this specific victory) began to exit the field, and the cheers began to grow.  One of the last players off the field was Derric; and as he came through the gate there was a huge cheer from the adoring fans, a reward for his incredible effort.  In fact, they clapped, and cheered, and even chanted his name; and the smile on his face grew from ear to ear. 

There is simply something about being celebrated that strikes a chord deeply within us.  It is something that we all so desperately long for.  When we get it, whether we realize it or not, we get a taste of the eternity we were all created for.  And when we don't, it throws us into a pit of doubt, insecurity, sadness, and despair.  What a contrast the night was for me...Derric and Caleb...one celebrated, one unnoticed.  But obviously there was far more to the picture than meets the eye...like, how does this scene take on life within me?

20 And he arose and came to his father. But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and felt compassion, and ran and embraced him and kissed him. 21 And the son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’  22 But the father said to his servants, ‘Bring quickly the best robe, and put it on him, and put a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet. 23 And bring the fattened calf and kill it, and let us eat and celebrate. 24 For this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found.’ And they began to celebrate.
25 “Now his older son was in the field, and as he came and drew near to the house, he heard music and dancing. 26 And he called one of the servants and asked what these things meant. 27 And he said to him, ‘Your brother has come, and your father has killed the fattened calf, because he has received him back safe and sound.’ 28 But he was angry and refused to go in. His father came out and entreated him, 29 but he answered his father, ‘Look, these many years I have served you, and I never disobeyed your command, yet you never gave me a young goat, that I might celebrate with my friends. 30 But when this son of yours came, who has devoured your property with prostitutes, you killed the fattened calf for him!’ 31 And he said to him, ‘Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours. 32 It was fitting to celebrate and be glad, for this your brother was dead, and is alive; he was lost, and is found.’” (Luke 15:20-32)

This was my gospel reading a couple of days ago...before my experience at the football game.  But it wasn't until the realization at the game that I began to understand what God was trying to help me see and understand.  All of us have a deep longing to be celebrated; even the older brother--and maybe particularly the older brother.  He comes home and sees a party.  Immediately his insecurities rise to the surface.  "What is this celebration about?  My younger brother?  How is he worthy of a celebration?  I'm the one who never left; this celebration should be for me." 

The Father's words are priceless here.  "My son"...affirming His sonship as well as the Father's affection..."you are always with me."  Almost as if to say "I love you and celebrate you every single day, don't you know that?"  In fact. "Everything I have is yours."  If you knew my deep love for you (and knew it to the core of your being), if you were attentive enough each day to know how dear you are to me and how much love is in my heart for you.  If you were only aware of how crazy about you I am and how much I celebrate you every day; then you would be secure enough in my love to celebrate the homecoming of your wayward brother.  My celebration of him is not a threat to my celebration of you.  You are my Beloved!  Know that to the depths of your being.

We will have our need to be celebrated met somehow, somewhere.  If we refuse to enter in to the celebration God offers of us--either because it sounds too good to be true, or somehow not good enough--we will find a way and a crowd to celebrate us, or we will chase after it for our entire lives.  But the celebration we most deeply long for (in fact the celebration we were created for) lies only in His celebration of us.  And until we realize that, and live out of that, we will never find the rest and peace we most deeply long for.  So let us all turn the ear of our hearts toward God and listen to the words of celebration He most deeply wants us to hear.

Derric, my son, you are my Beloved.  I know it feels good to be celebrated by the people around you, but the celebration you feel from them is only a drop in the bucket compared to the celebration that is in my heart for you.  Remember those cheers, remember the applause, remember them shouting your name, because that is exactly how I feel about you...only much more so!  I rejoice in you every minute of every day.  When I even think about you it brings a smile to my lips and deep joy to my heart.  You make my heart leap within me; you make it skip a beat.  You cause me to jump up and down and cheer.  That's how much I delight in you.  Come to me and know yourself as my beloved.

Caleb, my son, you are my Beloved.  I know you are tempted to believe that you have no worth, no value, because you are not celebrated by those around you as much as you long to be.  But as long as you seek that kind of celebration you will be disappointed, discouraged, sad, and in despair; because people can never offer you what you most deeply long for--only I can.  You are a joy and a delight to me.  I created you uniquely and wonderfully when I dreamt you into being and you are mine; the work of my incredibly loving and wonderfully creative hands.  Do not let the voices and applause (or lack thereof) of this world define you, but be defined by my abundant and unfailing love for you.

Jim. my son, you are my Beloved.  I know how much insecurity and doubt fills your heart; and it makes me so sad.  It hurts me deeply to see you doubting your value, your worth, and your calling.  I know how much you compare yourself with others, and how much (in your mind anyway) you come up woefully short in that comparison.  I so much long for you to know your own beauty, value, and worth.  You have something to offer that no one else in all creation has ever had or ever will have.  You are a wonderfully unique expression of my love, care, and creativity, and it gives me such joy to see you be who I made you to be and give what I gave you to give.  You are incomparable; beyond compare.  You are of infinite worth.  Come to me and allow me to celebrate over you daily.  Allow me to convince you of my extravagant love for you.  Allow me to convince you that you are worthy of being celebrated.  And allow me to remind you that I celebrate you ever minute of every day.  You are mine!!!  And I love you!!!

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Saturday, September 21, 2013

disordered affections

Jesus looked at him and loved him. One thing you lack,” he said. “Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” (Mark 10:21)


“Martha, Martha,” the Lord answered, “you are worried and upset about many things, but few things are needed—or indeed only one.  Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.” (Luke 10:41-42)


There is a created order to all things; an intentional design.  When that created order is followed, life is the result.  But whenever that created order is not adhered to, there is chaos.  That's why Jesus, when he was asked by "an expert in the law" in Matthew 22 which commandment was the greatest, immediately responds (from Deuteronomy 6:5): "Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.  This is the first and greatest commandment.  And the second is like it: love your neighbor as yourself.  All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments."  For there is even (and most particularly) a created order to our "loves."  For unless we love God with all of our being first, we can never truly love anyone or anything else with the love that we were created to love them with.  As Henri Nouwen put it years ago, "The second love, can only be a reflection of the first."  Therefore when we love something or someone more than we love God, we have gone against the created order; which produces all kinds of disorder and chaos.  The saints and the poets knew this well, and have discussed it in detail through the ages.  In fact, centuries ago Ignatius spoke of this very phenomenon when he used the term disordered affections.  It is a phrase that has really had some life in me lately. 

I actually think that's what Jesus was getting at when he was talking to the rich young ruler.  He looked at him and loved him because He realized that the real issue was that this young man's affections were disordered.  And Jesus wanted so much more for him than that.  That's why He tells him that there's still one thing he lacks.  One thing.  It is the same one thing that Martha lacked (in Luke 10).  That one thing was making Jesus his one thing.  That one thing was having Jesus as his first and truest affection.  For if Jesus is our first and truest affection, then the other things (or the many things in the case of Luke 10:41) of this life seem to fall in order behind that.  Our lives become centered on and rooted in the love of Jesus.

Unfortunately disordered affections can be a very difficult thing to recognize.  Because the things that end up occupying most of our time and energy (which is a very good way to tell what's really in the center of our lives) are often very good things: jobwork, accomplishments, reputation, service, ministry, achievements, hobbies, exercise, even family activities.  But Jesus was pretty direct in saying that when anything takes precedence over our affection for him (one thing), we have made that thing the center of our lives--a spot that was designed only for Him to occupy.  So the questions I am left to answer regularly are: What occupies most of my time and energy and focus these days?  What is my one thing right now?  And what does it really look like to hold Jesus as my first and truest affection?  The answer to these questions can give me a pretty good idea about whether my life, and my affections, are properly ordered.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

decrease

 He must increase, but I must decrease. (John 3:30)

So this was my reading for the day.  Well, not just this verse, but this verse plus a chunk of other verses around it.  In fact it's been my verse for the last couple of days; and maybe for a few days (or weeks) longer, who knows?  Anyway, today as I read from John 3, this was the only verse I saw.  And it came with a question from God: "How's this process going for you?"

Well, in an effort to avoid the question, I immediately started reading the other verses around it, trying to see if there was any way of weaseling out of the question through the context.  Nope, no luck.  The context is that John's disciples come to him because many of the folks that had come out to the desert to see John had jumped ship, and were now going to Jesus instead.  "Everyone's going to him," they complain.  And John's answer is priceless.  "Good!  Let them.  Didn't I tell you that I wasn't The One, but only the one sent to bear witness to The One?  The bride belongs to the bridegroom, not to me.  I'm just a friend of the bridegroom.  My job is to attend to the groom; waiting for His arrival, listening for His voice.  And when He comes, my job is just to step out of His way.  The bride is for Him, not for me.

That's when I realized it.  I don't want to be just the friend.  I want to be more than that.  I want the attention and affection and recognition that the groom gets.  I want the bride to feel that way about me.  I want to matter.  I don't want to be an insignificant secondary character in this story, I want a bigger role.  I want to be the main attraction; or at least a main attraction.  I want to increase.   I want to be BIG in people's lives.  I need to be BIG in people's lives.  And there it was...the ugly truth.

So I guess my answer to His original question is, "Not very well, I suppose."  There is still plenty that needs to die in me, starting with my needy attitude.  There is still plenty of decreasing that needs to be done; and not just for decreasing's sake, but for His sake, so that He might increase.  So that He might be BIG in the lives of people.  So BIG that He is all they see, all they want.  So that He is their Beloved Groom; The One who loves them so deeply and passionately that He was willing to sacrifice  everything just so they might spend eternity with Him.  Pray that I will want nothing more than to help make that happen.  Pray that I will learn to step aside and make BIG room for Him.  Pray that I will not try to take up all the space myself.  Pray that I will learn to be a better friend of the Bridegroom, rather than being so full of myself.  Pray that I might embrace this wonderful life of decreasing.  And pray that the next time He asks me this question, I'll have a better answer.

Monday, September 9, 2013

open

In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city of Galilee named Nazareth, to a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. And the virgin's name was Mary.  And he came to her and said, “Greetings, O favored one, the Lord is with you!”  But she was greatly troubled at the saying, and tried to discern what sort of greeting this might be.  And the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God.  And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus.  He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. And the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.”
     And Mary said to the angel, “How will this be, since I am a virgin?”
     And the angel answered her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy—the Son of God.  And behold, your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son, and this is the sixth month with her who was called barren.  For nothing will be impossible with God.”  And Mary said, “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.” And the angel departed from her. (Luke 1:26-38)


Don't you wish sometimes that you could've been a fly on the wall as these great stories of Scripture unfold?  Especially one like this.  I would have loved to see the faces of Mary and Gabriel as this exchange takes place.  I would have loved to hear the words; to hear how they were spoken, with what tone, and care, and volume.  And I would have loved to see how those words were received.  What did it look like that Mary was greatly troubled (disturbed) by the words, even in the midst of being filled with wonder about what they might mean and how they would be fulfilled.  I'm guessing that she was incredibly excited about the amazing thing God was getting ready to do, but troubled by what all it might mean for her life, her heart, and her family.  I get it.  I've felt like that before.  I've sensed God's invitation to do an incredibly intimate work deep within me and been so excited about it, but afraid of it all at the same time.  I mean the Holy Spirit was going to come upon her, the Most High God was going to overshadow her; and the result would be that God himself would somehow be conceived within her.

And you have to love Mary's response.  After all, God was asking something that was incredibly demanding of her...total openness.  She was to completely hold herself open to Him; totally vulnerable, totally willing, totally receptive to whatever He might choose to do.  It is a frightening posture to hold, unless the one that you hold it for is utterly loving and trustworthy.  Then, and only then, are we able to respond as she did: Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.”

I have a suspicion that the Spirit of the Most High would like to do something unspeakably intimate within each of us as well; something that will fill us with joyful wonder and greatly disturb us all at the same time.  And if we have the courage to hold ourselves open to Him; vulnerable, receptive, and willing.  If we have the courage to answer Him with the words of Mary: "I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word."  Then He will come upon us, and overshadow us, and birth Himself in us in an indescribably intimate way--which, in fact, is the deepest desire of our hearts.  Thanks be to God!

Friday, September 6, 2013

selling God

I was having lunch with a couple of old friends a few weeks ago and doing what only old friends can do: telling old stories, recalling old memories, laughing at old antics, generally just enjoying each others company.  But when the conversation turned to the present and to the content of life these days, it was a little different story.  It seems that the story being written these days in the lives of these dear friends wasn't quite as enjoyable to talk about; they have both been through (and are still going through) a lot.  In fact, as we talked about it all, there was not quite as much enthusiasm about this story, not as much laughter--only the hard reality of what life can throw at you from time to time...particularly as you get older. 

The beauty of it all was that there was a deep desire in the midst of the pain, and the struggle, and the chaos, to really press into faith; to turn to God and truly trust in Him.  And there was the realization that the content of their lives these days might just be the best type of "soil" in which the fruit of the Spirit can actually work, and grow, and take root.  We wondered together out loud about why faith wasn't more a part of their picture when they were younger, and talked about the times and the places and the people God had used through the years to try and get their attention and capture their hearts.  We talked about times that were significant--times that they thought for sure were going to change them forever--and how after a few months, or weeks, or even days, those times and experiences had faded away and the same old patterns, old habits, and old lives became their reality once again.  "I wonder what happened?" one of them said as he looked off into the distance.  "I even saw it happen to my kids.  They would come home all fired up from a camp, or a retreat, or a mission trip, with a whole new outlook on things, a whole new perspective, but it never lasted.  Before long they were the exact same as they had been before."

Now I know that that's just the nature of the spiritual life; it is clearly seen in the parable Jesus told about the sower and the seed.  Sometimes the seed just doesn't take root, does last, because of the condition of the soil.  But I also began to wonder if (or what) we might contribute to that process as well.  It reminded me of a conversation I had with a friend a few months earlier as we were talking about life and ministry, and about true and lasting change, as well as the lack of it.  I had been speaking on a weekend camp to a group of high school kids, trying to tell them of the incredible, extravagant love of Jesus.  In the midst of the weekend, as I was praying and preparing, and feeling more and more insecure about my ability to actually articulate that Love in a way that kids might actually respond to, God very clearly said to me, "Don't sell me to them.  Just tell them about me the best you can, and I'll do the rest.  Salvation is my responsibility, not yours."  And, of course, he was right.  He was not some product that they needed to buy; it's not like I was trying to sell them vinyl siding.  This is the God of the universe we're talking about here.  He can, and will, speak for himself.  And when He does, it always has the desired effect (Isaiah 55:10-11).  And unless He does, it is all for naught. 

I can try to sell them God if I want to (and I might even get pretty good at it), but if I do, then that is actually all they've got in the end...something that has been sold to them.  It is not their own, not a true part of them.  So once the product doesn't work quite the way they want it to, they take it back for a refund.  They walk away, because true salvation is something that just can't be manufactured; it is the work of the Spirit.  In fact, any salvation that's manufactured would seem to be synthetic (man-made) rather than authentic (God breathed).  And I'll have to admit, that I've done my fair share of trying to manufacture salvation in my lifetime. 

I wonder if that might be part of the reason that so many folks don't follow through after they have first heard about (or been sold) God.  It seems like a very fine line to me (and one I'm not sure I can even see) between giving a clear and compelling presentation of the Gospel and actually trying to sell God, but I think there is a big difference.  And I think there is a big difference between someone that has been sold a "product" and someone that has been "seized by the power of the Great Affection."  And one of the major differences seems to be that one lasts only a short time, while the other is eternal.

What does all of this mean?  I'm really not sure; it just seems to be something I need to be mindful of.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

proud papa (once again)

If you are a Young Life Leader--and probably even if you're not--this is a worthy read.

YL Leader Survival Guide

Sunday, September 1, 2013

workin it

“Come, everyone who thirsts,
    come to the waters;
and he who has no money,
    come, buy and eat!
Come, buy wine and milk
    without money and without price.

Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread,
    and your labor for that which does not satisfy?
Listen diligently to me, and eat what is good,
    and delight yourselves in rich food.

Incline your ear, and come to me;
    hear, that your soul may live...(Isaiah 55:1-3)



So Isaiah 55 was my reading for the day; which seems pretty ironic since it's Labor Day weekend.  So ironic, in fact, that it made me do a double-take, and then made me do a little research on what exactly Labor Day is and how it came about.  It seems that the idea of Labor Day goes back a ways, first being proposed in the United States in 1882; and then officially adopted as a holiday by the state of Oregon in 1887.  It actually wasn't until 1894 that it became a national holiday.  And best I can tell, Labor Day was a creation of the labor movement to celebrate the social and economic achievements of American workers. It constitutes a yearly national tribute to the contributions workers have made to the strength, prosperity, and well-being of their country.  So, in essence, Labor Day celebrates work; and man's accomplishments as a result of that work--good old American productivity...earn your keep, make it on your own, pull yourself up by your bootstraps, make a name for yourself productivity.  Which, on the surface, seems like a fine thing to celebrate...until you hold it up beside Isaiah 55.  Sometimes it is difficult to actually see the difference between the core values that our culture promotes and the values of the Gospel; that is until you hold it up to the light of Scripture.  Then it becomes evident that somehow, through the years, we have drifted toward the culture and away from the Gospel in very subtle, but significant ways.

I caught myself in that tension today as I was sitting with the question asked in verse 2: Why do you labor for that which does not satisfy?  I began to realize that as much as I try to convince myself that the opposite is true, I do, in fact, feed on things that can never--and were never intended to--satisfy me.  Instead of coming to Him alone, the well of living waters, I go elsewhere; I strive for recognition, toil for affirmation, try to build a reputation, perform to be admired for my work, jockey for position, labor to secure my place in the grand scheme of things.  In other words, I labor (long and hard I might add) for that which does not satisfy.  It might taste good for a moment, but in no time at all my soul is empty once again demanding to be filled.  Of course I can put a pretty face on it, doing it all in the name of His kingdom and His work, but in all honesty, deep in my heart I know better.  I know how much of it is really about me; about building and climbing and achieving and earning (all of which are smiled upon and applauded by the culture around us).  I can even make myself believe that it is all for noble purposes...for a while.  But eventually I come back to the realization that much of what I am laboring for, once again, is that which cannot satisfy and does not last.

The invitation of Isaiah 55 is altogether different.  It is not about laboring, and earning, and toiling, and striving and producing.  It is not a celebration of man's ability to feed himself, build his own world, or meet his own needs.  It is simply about coming.   Open, dependent, receptive, attentive, bringing nothing to the table.  Just comingCome and listenCome and drink and eat. Listen diligently, incline your ear, hear His voice.  Then you soul will delight in the richest of fare.  Then your soul may live.  The very life of the Spirit within us depends on it. 

Now that's something to celebrate!!!