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.