Thursday, December 31, 2015

new year

O God, as we come to the end of another year, help us to look back on all that has happened—both to us and in us—only as it is helpful to looking forward to all that you long to do in us and through us in the year to come.  Thank you that you long to do a new thing (Isaiah 43:19).  Help us to be totally open to whatever that may be.  For your Kingdom and your glory we pray.  Amen.


The years that lie behind you, with all their struggles and pains, will in time be remembered only as the way that led to your new life.  But as long as the new life is not fully yours, your memories will continue to cause you pain.  When you keep reliving painful events of the past, you can feel victimized by them.  But there is a way of telling your story that does not create pain.  Then, also, the need to tell your story will become less pressing.  You will see that you are no longer there: the past is gone, the pain has left you, you no longer have to go back and relive it, you no longer depend on your past to identify yourself.

     There are two ways of telling your story.  One is to tell it compulsively and urgently, to keep returning to it because you see your present suffering as the result of your past experiences.  But there is another way.  You can tell your story from the place where it no longer dominates you.  You can speak about it with a certain distance and see it as the way to your present freedom.  The compulsion to tell your story is gone.  From the perspective of the life you now live and the distance you now have, your past does not loom over you.  It has lost its weight and can be remembered as God’s way of making you more compassionate and understanding toward others. (The Inner Voice of Love by Henri J. M. Nouwen)

 

 
Lord God, do a new thing in me, both this day and this year.  And when you do, please give me eyes to see it and a heart to perceive—and receive—it.  Through your son Jesus, who makes all things new, I pray.  Amen. 

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

must

And he said to them, “Why were you looking for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father's house?" (Luke 2:49)


Don't you love it?  Even as a child Jesus knew what his musts were; one of which was that he must be in his Father's house.  It is the season for us, once again, to take stock and consider our musts as well.  What is the life you most deeply long to live?  Or, more accurately, what is the life God most deeply desires to live in and through you?  And what are the things and who are the people and what are the practices that will lead you in the direction of that life?  After all, and you've heard me say it many times before, "If you aim at nothing, you'll hit it every time."  As the New Year approaches, now is the time to look back and take stock of what has been fruitful in our lives, and to look ahead and consider what our musts need to be for the next leg of the journey.   What are your musts for the year ahead?

Saturday, December 26, 2015

a great prayer for the season

Sing to the Lord a new song,
    for he has done marvelous things;
his right hand and his holy arm
    have worked salvation for him.
The Lord has made his salvation known
    and revealed his righteousness to the nations.
He has remembered his love
    and his faithfulness to Israel;
all the ends of the earth have seen
    the salvation of our God.
Shout for joy to the Lord, all the earth,
    burst into jubilant song with music;
make music to the Lord with the harp,
    with the harp and the sound of singing,
with trumpets and the blast of the ram’s horn
    shout for joy before the Lord, the King.
 
                                        ~Psalm 98:1-6

Thursday, December 24, 2015

christmas eve

If
you want
the Virgin will come walking down the road
pregnant with the holy,
and say,
“I need shelter for the night, please take me inside your heart,
my time is so close.”
Then, under the roof of your soul, you will witness the sublime
intimacy, the divine, the Christ
taking birth
forever,
as she grasps your hand for help, for each of us
is the midwife of God, each of us.
Yet there, under the dome of your being does creation
come into existence eternally, through your womb, dear pilgrim—
the sacred womb in your soul,
as God grasps our arms for help; for each of us is
His beloved servant
never far.
If you want, the Virgin will come walking
down the street pregnant
with Light and sing ...

 
~St. John of the Cross

Monday, December 21, 2015

consumed

See, I am doing a new thing!  Now it springs up; do you not perceive it?  I am making a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland. (Isaiah 43:15)


It is so easy at times to get completely consumed with the wilderness we find ourselves in the midst of, that we are unable to see the God who is making a way for us in the midst of it, much less the new thing he is trying to do both in and through us as a result.  I guess that's because we have a tendency to get so consumed with where we are in our own lives and journeys, so caught up in our own smaller stories, if you will, that we cannot see the larger story of God and where he is leading us and what he is doing in our lives and in our world. 

Being in the wilderness is a necessary part of the process.  The saints called it purgation.  It is the part of the journey where we empty ourselves--or God empties us--of whatever we might be full of other than God.  It is the part of the journey where we make room within us to receive whatever new thing God might want to do in us.  For if we are too full--of guilt, or shame, or fear, or anxiety, or insecurity, or even ambition--then there is no room for God to work.  Purgation makes space for illumination (the second part of the ancient dance), which then brings us to the possibility of union, the thing God desires most, both for us and from us. 

The problem is that if we end up in the wilderness for a substantial amount of time, we begin to believe that that's all there is.  We forget that there is more to the story.  We forget that this season is making a way to something, or somewhere, good and beautiful.  We forget that purgation is simply one part of a much larger dance.  In fact, we can become so consumed with the wilderness we find ourselves in the midst of that we really can't see anything else.

Therefore, it is essential to remind ourselves of, and engage in, the larger story.  When we focus on the larger story, of God and his work in our lives and our world, then it gives us perspective and hope.  Therefore, we must not get caught up--or consumed, or stuck--in the smaller story, but continually push ourselves to look beyond it.  Because God is always about a larger story, and all of our smaller stories only make sense in light of his story.

Friday, December 11, 2015

pregnant with hope

I don't know about you, but my soul groans a lot.  My soul groans when I get word of a precious baby who likely will not be in this world much longer.  I groan when I pray for a young father with a brain tumor.  I groan when I am told of marriages that are falling apart, of husbands and wives living parallel lives rather than the union they were made for.  I groan when I see friends grieve the loss of a brave and winsome young man who was so full of life and hope the days he walked on this earth.  And I groan when I take a good long look at the state of this fragile, dysfunctional heart of mine, so full of doubts and insecurities and anxiety and fear.   I groan when I wonder if it will ever be what it was intended to be, if it will ever experience the freedom and the wholeness and the life it so desperately longs for.  I groan.  Do you?  What has you groaning right now?  And how will you make the journey from groaning to hope?  That is what this season is all about.  Hope.  Hope that God will one day show up in the midst of all the groaning.  Hope that God cares for us more deeply than we could ever ask or imagine.  Hope that everything, someday, will all become what it was meant to be.  In fact a very wise saint once said, "The purpose of Advent is to make us pregnant with hope."  I really like that.  I want to be pregnant with hope.  I want to be so full of hope that I just can't contain it any longer; it simply must be birthed into my life and world.  O how I long for that day!  The day when hope bursts forth and is born in me and through me and around me.  It will come dear friends.  The day will come, the day when God will visit his people once again, as he did in that manger in Bethlehem, and bring his kingdom into this dark and hurting world; that day when he comes and sets everything right once again.  Come, Lord Jesus!

Saturday, December 5, 2015

the life you most deeply long to live

In view of the fact that all these things are to be dissolved, what sort of people ought you to be? Surely men of good and holy character, who live expecting and earnestly longing for the coming of the day of God. (2 Peter 3:11-12, JBP)


"In view of these things, what kind of people ought we to be?"  What a great question.  Since everything we see will one day be destroyed, what kind of life do we want Jesus to find us living when he returns?  Let your heart and mind--and soul--run with that one for a while.  What is the life you most deeply long to live?  The life that makes you the best version of who you were dreamt to be.  And notice that is says what kind of people ought we to be, rather than what kinds of things ought we to do.  It is a question aimed at our depths, not at our surface.

The first words that come to mind for me are: passionate, loving, peaceful, selfless, and diligent.  And after looking at my list I guess I could've just written down the fruit of the Spirit in Galatians 5:22-23 and been done with it.  But these are the first things that bubble to the surface of my heart and soul. 

First, I want to live passionately.  I want my passion for Jesus, and my passion for his kingdom, to be the thing that determines the content of my days and the quality of my life.  I want to live with an excitement, anticipation, and intensity about my life with him and for him, instead of living with a constant sense of frustration (which is most often directed at myself). 

Next, I want to be loving.  I want love to be the thing that compels me, the way Paul talks about in 2 Corinthians 5:14.  I don't want to be motivated and controlled and compelled by a constant sense of fear, or anxiety, or insecurity, or self-centeredness.  I do not want to be self-consumed, I want to be God-consumed. 

I also want to live a life of peace, and be a person of peace.  I want to have a constant sense of harmony within myself, not disharmony or discord.  I want to be whole, and to seek wholeness in my own heart and soul, as well as in my life and in my relationships.  I do not want to be contentious, or insecure, or competitive. Instead, I want to have the same heart as Jesus, a heart that frees me to be compassionate and caring. 

And finally, I want to be diligent.  I do not want to be lethargic, or lackadaisical, or lukewarm, or passive, or lazy in my faith, in my life, in my marriage, in my family, in my vocation, or in my relationships with others.  I want to be intentional and engaged on a regular basis, and that takes work.

So how in the world can I be all of those things?  How do I become the man I long to be?  I guess I could just try real hard.  But if you are like me you've been down that road before, and it is a dead end street.  In a matter of days or weeks--or in some cases hours or minutes--you end up right where you were before: frustrated, defeated, and disheartened.  The problem is that we can't behave ourselves into holiness, we can only be captured into holiness (Watch and Wait, p 37).  Therefore, the first (and maybe only) step in the process of transformation is to be totally and completely captured by the great affection of our God, and pulled into this life of delight, rather than somehow trying to push ourselves into it through guilt or shame.  We have to make time and space to be with God, to listen to his whispers of delight, to sense the fullness of his embrace, and to be captured by the wild passion of his love.  That is how transformation happens.  That is how we become the men and women he intended us to be.  Let us take a step--no matter how small of how large--in that direction this very day. 

Lord Jesus, help me to make time and space in my life today to be captured by the power of your great affection.  For only then do I have any hope of being the man you long for me to be when you come again.  Amen. 

Sunday, November 29, 2015

hunting

The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field. When a man found it, he hid it again, and then in his joy went and sold all he had and bought that field. (Matthew 13:44)


Finally.  The season of Advent has officially begun.  It feels like it has taken forever as we have trudged through the longest season of the church year, the season of ordinary time, and have finally arrived at the season of Watching and Waiting once againIt is the beginning of yet another liturgical year.  Advent is finally here. 

And it is key for us to remember, as we begin this new season, that there is an active part to this watching and waiting; which sounds as though it is anything but active.  And the active part has to do with the fact that often the treasure we are looking for, and hoping for and longing for, is hidden.  So our activity during Advent has nothing to do with filling our lives and our schedules to the brim with all sorts of activities and obligations, but has everything to do with making space and time to be aware and attentive.  It has everything to do with looking for the treasure hidden in all things.  It has everything to do with looking and seeking and searching and digging to the depths of our very souls, that we might find the treasure hidden both within and around us.  It has everything to do with having the right eyes to seek and to see that treasure in whatever circumstance or conversation or task or duty (like Zechariah) or event or festivity we find ourselves in the middle of--particularly those that seem the least likely to contain that treasure.  For if there is one thing this season shows us, it is that the Treasure is likely to be found in the least likely places.  Happy hunting.

Saturday, November 28, 2015

do you truly love me?

Jesus said, “Feed my sheep.  I tell you the truth, when you were younger you dressed yourself and went where you wanted; but when you are old you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will dress you and lead you where you do not want to go.”  Jesus said this to indicate the kind of death by which Peter would glorify God. Then he said to him, “Follow me!” (John 21:18-19)


Feed my sheep.  Stretch out your hands.  Follow me.  That is what our lives are to be about: minister, surrender, and follow.  That's it.  It's not very complicated.  But obviously we do complicate it.  Maybe that's because our regular default mode is not to minister, surrender, and follow, but to feed ourselves, desperately try to control our world, and set our own agenda.  We are not much for that whole led to where you do not want to go thing.  But I guess that's where we have to be reminded that this life is not about us, but about him.  It was a lesson the disciples had to learn over and over.  And it is the simple truth that Jesus was trying to teach Simon Peter at this very moment, "You only truly love me when this is what your life looks like.  Otherwise, you are just loving yourself in a clever disguise. 

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

seeing

The eye is the lamp of the body. So, if your eye is good, your whole body will be full of light, but if your eye is bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light in you is darkness, how great is the darkness! (Matthew 6:22-23)


How we see things is so incredibly important.  It determines so much about our lives and our attitudes and our outlook.  If our eyes are clear, if we are looking through the lenses of Scripture, seeing ourselves and our world through the eyes of Jesus, our whole body will be full of light.  But if our eyes are bad, if our vision is clouded and distorted by fear, or insecurity, or depression, or apathy, or greed, or the thousand-and-one other things that can keep us from seeing accurately, then our whole body will be filled with darkness.  And O how great the darkness!  So the call each day is to look at everything--no matter what the circumstance--through the proper lenses, for only then will we have the perspective to see things and people and events as they truly are.  And only then will we be able to defeat the darkness that tries to overwhelm and overcome us, and live in the light and the love--and truth--of Christ.


O Lord, give me good eyes today, that my soul may be filled with light rather than darkness, love rather than need.  Do not let my vision get clouded and distorted by the darkness that is around me or within me, but help my eyes to stay pure and clear, seeing as you see, that I might love as you love.  Amen.


"Your eyes are windows into your body.  If you open your eyes wide in wonder and belief, your body fills up with light.  If you live squinty-eyed in greed and distrust, your body is a dank cellar.  If you pull the blinds on your windows, what a dark life you will have!" (Matthew 6:22-23, The Message)

Saturday, November 21, 2015

harmony and disharmony

when i come to that quiet place,
back into the harmony
from which and for which i was made,
i am able to breathe again
with the divine breath.
i am able to become one again with all that is,
to join the true voice of my soul
with that of the heavenly chorus.
i join the breeze in the trees
and the rippling waters
and the rolling hills
in being what we were all made to be.
o the beauty. o the freedom. o the delight.
and it is not until i rejoin this eternal harmony
that i am able to recognize how disharmonious
my life has been in the past days and weeks.
i have not even resembled the me
i was made to be,
but have been some distorted
and desperate version of my true self.
but now, as i return to this silent space,
return to this tranquility and this peace,
i can become myself once again.
i can find my divinely given voice
and sing.

Monday, November 16, 2015

doing and being

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


Years ago a good friend of mine—seeing the busyness and chaos of my life—asked me if I was a human doing or a human being.  “Because I have a suspicion,” he said, “that you were created to be a human being.”  And of course he was right.  Why is it so easy to lose our way in this world, and begin to think that our value and our worth are determined by what we do, rather than by who we are—or rather whose we are?  It is such an easy trap to fall into, which is probably why God felt it necessary to remind us—in these verses in Isaiah—that our salvation and our worth is not dependent on what we do, or on how well we do it.  It is not dependent on how well we perform, what we achieve, or who thinks we’re wonderful.  It is dependent solely on God’s great love and mercy.  Once we remember that truth, and really believe it, then, and only then, do we have a real possibility of moving from human doing to human being.



Thursday, November 12, 2015

free

It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery. (Galatians 5:1)


When it comes to the subject of freedom, it seems like we spend a lot of time thinking about what we have been--or desire to be--set free from, but I wonder if it might be more fruitful for us also to consider what we have been set free for.  Here in Galatians, Paul reminds us that we have not only been set free from something, but we have been set free for something.  And what we have been set free for is freedom.  What an interesting thought.  And what does that even mean?  Maybe what he's saying is that we have been set free from our slavery to fear and anxiety and insecurity--from being self-consumed, in other words--in order that we might be set free for love.  Because until we are free, we will never be able to genuinely love anyone; we will be too busy trying to manipulate and extort love out of them instead.  Therefore, in order to truly care for and minster to people, without demanding that they meet our needs in some sadly warped way, we must first experience freedom in Christ.  Freedom for something much larger than us.  Freedom for his kingdom and his purposes.  Freedom to be who and what he created us to be.  Maybe that's why Paul goes on to say: "For you were called to freedom, brothers.  Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another." (Galatians 5:13, ESV)  Food for thought I suppose.


Plant your feet firmly therefore within the freedom that Christ has won for us, and do not let yourselves be caught again in the shackles of slavery. (Galatians 5:1, JBP)


Thursday, October 29, 2015

salt and light

     You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled underfoot.
     You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden.  Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house.  In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven. ~Matthew 5:13-16


The older I get the more I've come to believe that ministry is much less about what we do and much more about who we are.  I think it is intended to be something that flows freely and pours forth from what God is doing in the depths of our hearts and souls, not something we have to manufacture or manipulate or create--no contriving, no forcing, no holding back (Rilke).  I think that's why Jesus says that we are the salt of the earth and we are the light of the world.  Salt and light do not have to work real hard to be salt and light, they just have to be what they were intended to be.  They have to bring out the flavor of God within them, and illuminate the beauty of God around them.  It is the same with us.  We're not called to do salt and light, we are called to be salt and light.  Being salt and being light are the natural expressions of the life of God in us.  If we are living in union with God, if we are falling more and more in love with Jesus each day, it will pour forth from our lives and it will find its way to those in our world.  Everyone will taste God's flavor uniquely in us.  Everyone will see the beauty of God illuminated by us.  All we have to do is to be our true--God breathed--selves.  When we are not being who God made us to be--when we are forcing or when we are holding back--we are like salt that has lost its saltiness, or like a light that has been put under a bowl.  And what good is that?  So instead of constantly trying to figure out how to do ministry, from now on I think I'm going to think more about how to be who and what God has created me to be. 

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

being

I believe in all that has never been spoken.
I want to free what waits within me.
so that what no one has dared to wish for
 
may for once spring clear
without my contriving.
 
If it is arrogant, God, forgive me,
but this is what I need to say.
May what I do flow from me like a river,
no forcing and no holding back,
the way it is with children.
 
Then in these swelling and ebbing currents,
these deepening tides moving out, returning,
I will sing you as no one ever has,
 
streaming through the widening channels
into the open sea.
(The Book of Hours, I 12, by Rainer Maria Rilke)



Within yourselves you have made a room, a secluded space.  You have built it by prayer--the Jesus Prayer or whatever prayer you have found profitable.  You should be more aware of God than of anyone else, because you are carrying within you this utterly quiet and silent chamber.  Because you are more aware of God, because you have been called to listen in your inner silence, you can bring God to the street, the party, the meeting, in a very special and powerful way.  The power is God's but you have contributed yourself.  God has asked you and chosen you to be the carrier of that silent place within yourself.
     In a manner of speaking, nothing has changed in your daily schedule.  So you attend all the meetings as before, knowing in deep faith and its accompanying darkness that you are bringing Christ, the Christ who prayed to his Father all night, alone on the mountain.  You bring the Christ who stole away from the crowds to pray.  You are now carrying him back to the crowds.  So you should be "with" the crowds.

                                                                                     ~Catherine de Hueck Doherty



Never underestimate the power of God that expresses itself through your own uniquely beautiful giftedness.
 
 
 
 

Friday, October 23, 2015

Monday, October 19, 2015

slave or son

For you did not receive a spirit that makes you a slave again to fear, but you received a Spirit of sonship.  And by him we cry, "Abba, Father."  The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God's children. ~Romans 8:15-16


Lord Jesus, help me not be a slave to fear, but a son of God.

I live as a slave when I start living in fear of what might happen.  I live as a slave when I live my life afraid that I do not have what it takes, that I don't measure up, that I am not enough--that I am of no value.  Then I become a slave not only to fear, but a slave to circumstance, a slave to comparison, a slave to competition, a slave to affirmation, achievement, and applause.  That is when I must cling to the truth that I am a son; your beloved son.  You delight in me.  Then, and only then, will I be free.  Free to live as you live and free to love as you love.

Lord Jesus, help me to love like you today.  Rid my heart of all that is not love.


All who follow the leading of God's Spirit are God's own sons.  Nor are you meant to relapse into the old slavish attitude of fear--you have been adopted into the very family circle of God and you can say with a full heart, "Father, my Father."  The Spirit himself endorses our inward conviction that we really are the children of God. (Romans 8:14-16, JBP)

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

the ministry of absence

Many years ago I was working for a month at a summer camp with a group of dear friends.  It was a rich and wonderful time in which we got to see God work and move and act in so many ways in the lives of teenagers from all over the country.  At the end of our month together, the person who had been directing our efforts spent time with each one of us helping us sift through the time together, mining it for hidden gems that might have slipped through the cracks unnoticed if we weren't paying really good attention.  As he and I sat together, talking about all that God was doing within and around me over the past month, he made a statement that has stuck with me to this day.  "You did a wonderful job," he said.  "But it seemed like you always had to be around, physically present, whenever anything was going on.  It seemed like you were only confident that God would work if you had your hands in it.  I wonder if you might need to learn how to trust God in your absence as much as you seem to trust him in your presence."

There is something to be said for the ministry of absence.  Henri Nouwen talked a lot about it in the book The Living Reminder, which I highly recommend!  And it seems to be part of what Jesus was getting at when he said to his friends, "It is best for you that I go away." (John 16:7, NLT)  It was in his absence that the Spirit would come and offer God's presence in a whole new way.  A whole new level of intimacy.  Absence was necessary to make space for a new presence.  I can't even begin to explain the mystery of all of this, but it does make me wonder if we shouldn't pay more attention to this phenomenon in our own lives and ministries.  We tend to think we always have to be present for things to go well.  I wonder though, if the truth isn't more that we actually have a desperate need to be present.  Heaven forbid that things would or could actually go well while we were absent.  What would that say about us?  We need, in some sad and insecure way, to be indispensable. As a result, we end up filling all the space and leaving no room for God to move and to act and to speak.  We've taken up all the space with our own actions and words and presence.  Therefore an emptying needs to take place, an absence needs to occur, in order for God to fill that empty space with his Spirit, his Voice, and his work.  Then, and only then, can we, as Henri Nouwen puts it, "Be the way without being in the way."  I think it is definitely something to ponder.

Monday, October 5, 2015

flourishing

Image result for olive tree

 But I am like an olive tree
    flourishing in the house of God;
I trust in God’s unfailing love
    for ever and ever.

                        ~Psalm 52:8

Friday, October 2, 2015

my cup overflows

What is the state of your cup these days?  What is it full of?  Is it full of chaos and stress and busyness?  Is it full of demands and expectations and agendas?  Is it full of fear and anxiety and insecurity?  The truth of the matter is that we are always full of something, be it something good or be it something not so good.  And this time of year it seems to be real easy to be full and not even be totally aware of what we're full of.  The reason this is important is because what we are full of is what will spill out onto those around us.

That's one of the reasons I love Psalm 23 so much.  It encourages us to make time and space to be full of the right stuff--God.  As a matter of fact it doesn't just encourage us to make time and space, but requires us to make time and space.  It reminds us that if we are truly following Jesus, and not just some compulsion to do or to be something or someone other than what he made us to be, we will be making time and space.  Just look at the language of the Psalm: he makes me lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside  quiet waters, he restores my soul.  So when I am truly following Jesus, making time and space is a necessity.  It is a matter of obedience.  Why?  Because it is through the process of making time and space--and having our souls restored--that he makes our cups overflow.  Jesus doesn't want those he has given us to pursue and care for to receive just anything that spills out of our cups, he wants them to receive him.  And they will only receive him if that's what we are full of.  He wants to fill us so full of himself that his life in us wells up and overflows to all of those around us.  That is what ministry is all about. 

Sunday, September 6, 2015

humility

God has been teaching me a lot about humility lately; some through prayer and scripture, and some through hard experience.  He is teaching me about the great value of being unnoticed, unseen, and unnecessary.  He has actually been teaching me about these things for years, but finally, I think (and hope), I am beginning to embrace what he is trying to do in me.  Madeleine L'Engle once wrote: "When we are self-conscious, we cannot be wholly aware; we must throw ourselves out first."  It seems that this throwing ourselves out is what the work of humility is all about; that we might be fully aware of God, and what he desires, and what he is up to within and around us.

Humility is such a good and beautiful--and terrible--thing.  It creates such open, receptive soil in our souls.  It opens our ears, and our hearts, to God's voice because it keeps us from being so full of our own.  Humility brings about freedom and wholeness because it releases us from the burden of constantly having something to prove.  It empties us of self and creates space for God to move and to act by preparing our souls to receive whatever he might desire to plant in us.  It is a dying that makes way for a Living.  It is an emptying that makes space for a Filling.  It is an absence that makes us aware of a Presence.  It is a sorrow that brings about a Joy.  It is a letting go that leads to a Taking Hold.  And I have a suspicion that this work of humility God is doing within me is not so much a season as it is a destination--calling me to a new way of being.

Eugene Peterson said it this way: "When God became human in Jesus, he showed us how to be complete human beings before him.  We do it the way Jesus did it, by becoming absolutely needy and dependent on the Father.  Only when we stand emptied, stand impoverished before God can we receive what only empty hands can receive.  This is the poverty of spirit in which Jesus blesses us (Matt. 5:3). 

Lord Jesus, let humility do its work in me: emptying me of self, opening my ears to your voice, softening my heart to those around me, and allowing me to be, and to love, more like You each day.  Amen.

Friday, August 28, 2015

lay down your burdens

I think we all live with the burden of trying to prove to ourselves and our world that we are worth loving.  Or at least I know I do.  It is a little different, I suppose, for guys and girls, but we all live with a gnawing sense that we are just not enough.  A wise man once said that the deepest question of every man's heart is "Do I have what it takes?"  And the deepest question of every woman's heart is "Am I worth being pursued?"  I can't speak for the ladies, but I can say that his description of a man's heart is dead on.  Thus, for us guys anyway, it is very easy to measure the answer to that question by how well we perform (scores, records, achievements, accomplishments, comparisons, stats, measurements, bank accounts, etc.); and to think that our value is determined by what we do--and particularly how well we do it.  It is an extraordinarily heavy burden to bear.

But actually, nothing could be further from the truth.  Our value as a human being (mine and yours) does not depend on how good of a golfer, or a businessman, or a minister, or a Young Life leader we are--or how good of an anything we are for that matter--but is determined by the One who made us and loves us dearly.

In Matthew 11:28-30, Jesus said, "Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.  Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.  For my yoke is easy and my burden is light."

Come to me and let me be the One that determines your value and your worth.  Do not carry that burden alone, it will wear you out.  Your worth and your value cannot be determined by what you do, or what you achieve, but only by the value given to you by me--the One who made you and loves you.

Jesus longs for us to come.  He longs for us to join (yoke) ourselves to him, to lay down our burdens, and to let him be the one that shows us how incredibly valuable and loved we really are.

Thanks be to God!

Sunday, August 23, 2015

rejoice

The seventy-two returned with joy, saying, “Lord, even the demons are subject to us in your name!”  And he said to them, “I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven.  Behold, I have given you authority to tread on serpents and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy, and nothing shall hurt you.  Nevertheless, do not rejoice in this, that the spirits are subject to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.” (Luke 10:17-20)



The Jesus works and the Jesus words performed and preached and taught by the seventy-two have Jesus results.  The seventy-two are absolutely astonished at what takes place among the Samaritans--"surprised by joy."  This is heady stuff.  Jesus confirms their excitement: He "sees Satan fall from heaven like a flash of lightning," joins them in rejoicing "in the Holy Spirit," and thanks the "Father, Lord of heaven and earth" for the harvest.  "Rejoice" (agalliao), the verb that powers Jesus' confirming words, conveys an exuberance we see expressed in dance and cartwheels.  And in Samaria of all places!
     But he also introduces a word of caution: "Do not rejoice at this, that spirits submit to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven" (Luke 10:20).  There is danger that we will become overly excited at what we see going on around us and neglect the center, our heaven-inscribed identities, out of which the work develops.  Not what we do, but who we are "in heaven," anchors the joy. (Tell It Slant by Eugene Peterson)


A great reminder as we begin a new year of ministry, from the very lips of Jesus himself.  May the work we do never take precedence in our hearts over who we are in Christ.  Rejoice not in what you do, rather rejoice in whose you are.

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

dancing to his rhythm

Well, it's that time of year again.  The time of year when school starts back and the pace and the activity level seems to pick up once again.  There is simply something energizing about this time of year, although it has occurred to me that, sadly, we keep shaving days and weeks off of the summer--much to our detriment, I might add--but that's a subject for a whole different set of posts altogether.

Anyway, since it is the time of year when we begin to pick up the pace a little bit, I've been thinking about the implications of that increase on our lives and our ministries.  It is easy to get swept away by activity if we don't see it and anticipate it and begin to adjust our spiritual rhythms accordingly.  The reason for that is that the quality of our lives and our ministries is always determined by the quality of our inner lives with Jesus.  Ministry, in order to have the power and the authenticity God longs for it to have, must be organic.  It can't be manufactured.  In other words, it must come from a place of living reality within us.  In order for ministry to be organic it must come from something growing deep inside.  And for something to be growing deep inside, we must be consistently making time and space for God to be planting something deep inside.  Apart from that work of God in us, there will likely not be the work of God through us that he really desires there to be.  Unless we are consistently encountering Jesus in a way that is transforming us, how can we ever hope to have anything of value to offer those to whom God is sending us? 

So it might be a good idea to spend some time in the next week or so asking Jesus what he wants our lives with him to look like over the next several months, and adjusting accordingly; walking at his pace and dancing to his rhythm rather than dashing and thrashing madly around to our own.  May his peace be with you.

Saturday, July 25, 2015

gestation

I have really been captured by a Rilke quote this week.  It has helped me to be really attentive to whatever life God is growing in me these days.  I wonder if sometimes I don't try to rush a process that cannot be rushed, wanting it, whatever it is, to be born before it is ready to come forth.  Anyway, here's the quote:


Everything is gestation and then bringing forth.  To let each impression and each germ of a feeling come to completion wholly in itself, in the dark, in the inexpressible, the unconscious, beyond the reach of one’s own intelligence, and await with deep humility and patience the birth-hour of a new clarity: that alone is living the artist’s life: in understanding as in creating. 
     There is here no measuring with time, no year matters, and ten years are nothing.  Being an artist means, not reckoning and counting, but ripening like the tree which does not force its sap and stands confident in the storms of spring without the fear that after them may come no summer.  It does come.  But it comes only to the patient, who are there as though eternity lay before them, so unconcernedly still and wide, I learn it daily, learn it with pain to which I am grateful: patience is everything! (Letters to a Young Poet by Rainer Maria Rilke)


It has caused me to ask myself a few questions this week: What is growing in me these days?  How am I giving it time and space and attention to become whatever it is intended to be?  Will I resist the temptation to rush it from conception to delivery and give it time and space and prayer to grow and develop?

New birth, it seems, cannot be rushed or forced.



Thursday, July 23, 2015

union

This is a piece I wrote about a year and a half ago that seems even more true for me today, and for my desire to be one with Jesus, than it did even when I wrote it.  Funny how God has a way of doing that.  And it might also be because I'm reading Teresa of Avila again (Interior Castle), whose writings inspired the poem to begin with.


     one

full of myself
may it never be
but only you
my dear jesus

as rain falling into a pond
becomes one
no longer any rain
only the pond
as a stream flowing into the sea
becomes one
no longer any stream
only the sea
as light coming into a room
from two windows
becomes one
no longer windows
only light

may i melt into you
so that there is
no more me
but only you
my beloved jesus


* Note: This poem and others are found in Pieces II, which I just recently overhauled and added some fun stuff to.  Hit the link if you are interested.  I don't think many folks know about that book, but there are a lot of Pieces in there that I love.  Thanks be to God!  And thanks be to you for being on this journey with me.

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

learning to gaze

Last spring I had a dear friend come to town to spend some time helping me and a group of my friends here in Knoxville reflect on and discuss the idea of cultivating intimacy in our relationship with Jesus.  The discussion took place in two parts.  First, with a large group of people on a Friday night in a kind of "question and answer" format.  And then, for a good bit of the next day, in a smaller group context that was much more quiet and reflective. 

During the Friday night session, as people were just beginning to arrive at the venue, I was standing with my friend talking about our hopes for the evening ahead, when all of the sudden my wife walked into the room.  Now, I'll have to admit that often times I catch myself just staring at her, amazed at who she is and what she means to me.  Well, apparently this was one of those times because my friend stopped talking and just began to look at me with a big grin on his face.  When I finally noticed that he was not talking anymore, but was watching me and my reaction to my wife walking into the room, I began to grin myself and replied, "What?"  I knew he had caught me.

"Oh nothing," he said, "I was just enjoying the way you look at your wife.  As a matter of fact, you weren't just looking at her, it was something way more than that."  And indeed it was.

As we continued standing there together we both just smiled.  Because that look, and the heart behind it, was the very thing we were going to be talking about in the hours and minutes that followed.  That look is the stuff intimacy is made of.  That look is the way God looks at us; and the way he longs for us to look back at him.  In fact, it is more than a look, it is a gaze.  How can we learn to gaze at God, and be gazed on by him?  If we can learn the answer to that question, I have a suspicion that intimacy between us will never be an issue again.

If you look up the word gaze in the dictionary you will find that it means to look intently and longingly, with great pleasure and wonder.  It is the kind of look David talked about in Psalm 27:4 when he said, "One thing have I asked of the Lord, that will I seek after: that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to gaze upon the beauty of the Lord and to meditate in his temple."  If we could only learn to gaze at Jesus, and watch Jesus as he gazes at us, I believe it would change everything about our relationship with him.

But how do we learn to do that?  The best answer I can give goes right back to that room as my wife walked in.  Maybe the best thing I can do is to think about the way(s) I look at my wife; how I think about her, what it does to my heart within me, and how it makes me feel about her.  When I gaze at Carol it can be in so many different ways.  At times I catch myself gazing at her as a wife and being overwhelmed with how incredible a wife she really is--especially being married to a guy like me.  She is so loving and gentle and kind.  I'm not sure I have ever met a person as genuinely kind as she is.  At other times I can find myself gazing at her as a mother, being overcome with how well she loves and cares for and prays for and sacrifices for our kids.  At times I gaze at her as a friend, loving how easily and often she laughs and smiles, how safe and free the space she offers me is, how easy she is to be with and how delightful she is to be around, as well as how she is so "for me" in everything I do.  And the list just goes on and on.  I could just as easily tell you how I gaze at her as a lover (with beauty beyond all I have ever seen...but we will keep this G-rated), or as a worker, or as a daughter, or as a sister--all of which she is incredible at!

All of this offers me a great picture of what it means to gaze at Jesus.  I need to spend time gazing at Jesus in the same way: Jesus as friend, Jesus as brother, Jesus as teacher, Jesus as lover.  Not to mention Jesus as Savior, Jesus as Redeemer, Jesus as Suffering Servant, or Jesus as King of kings and Lord of lords.  Today, for example, my reading for the day was in John 10 and I had the opportunity to gaze at Jesus as the Good Shepherd; tenderly loving, gently leading, faithfully providing and protecting, constantly calling my name as he leads and guides.  The possibilities are endless.  The point is that if we want true intimacy with Jesus, I think that we will have to become good at the art of gazing.  For when we do, and we get good at the art of watching him gaze at us in return, intimacy will be the natural result.

So, by all means, may we do exactly what David writes about in Psalm 27 and constantly make space and time to gaze on the beauty of the Lord.

Saturday, July 11, 2015

just a beginner

"What might it mean to live fully and freely in the life of the Trinity, knowing and loving God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit as they know and love each other?"

                                                                                                    ~R. Thomas Ashbrook


"The wiles of the devil are terrible; he will run a thousand times round hell if by doing so he can make us believe that we have a single virtue which we have not."

                                                                                                      ~Teresa of Avila


     Many a one has turned from his inner chamber, under bitter self-accusation that he has prayed so little, and has resolved for the future to live in a different manner.  Yet no blessing has come—there was not the strength to continue faithful, and the call to repentance had no power, because his eyes had not been fixed on the Lord Jesus.  If he had only understood he would have said: “Lord, Thou seest how cold and dark my heart is: I know that I must pray, but I feel that I can not do so; I lack the urgency and desire to pray.”
     He did not know that at that moment the Lord Jesus in His tender love was looking down upon him and saying: “You cannot pray; you feel that all is cold and dark: why not give yourself over into my hands?  Only believe that I am ready to help you in prayer; I long greatly to shed abroad My love in your heart, so that you, in the consciousness of weakness, may confidently rely on Me to bestow the grace of prayer.  Just as I cleanse you from all other sins, so also will I deliver from the sin of prayerlessness—only do not seek the victory in your own strength.  Bow before Me as one who expects everything from his Savior.  Let your soul keep silence before Me, however sad you feel your state to be.  Be assured of this—I will teach you how to pray. (The Prayer Life by Andrew Murray)



It is amazing how, even after 37+ years of following Jesus, reading the saints and the poets can cause me to realize how much of a beginner I still am.  Lord, have mercy.