Saturday, December 31, 2016

numbering our days

Teach us to  number our days aright that we might gain a heart of wisdom. ~Psalm 90:12

Annie Dillard once wrote: "How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives.  What we do with this hour, and that one, is what we are doing."  I think she must have understood the concept of numbering our days aright.  She realized how easy it could be to get lulled to sleep in our lives and lose touch with the fact that we have the responsibility to use our minutes and our hours and our days to live the life we have been given to live, rather than simply allowing life to live us.  We are not merely passive observers, but are active participants.  There is a certain stewardship required to this life we have been given; to use it as the One who gave it to us intended.  Our lives are not our own.  They do not belong to us, but to Him.  Thus, we do not establish the work of our hands for ourselves; we ask God, as Moses instructed, to establish the work of our hands for us. (Psalm 90:17)  That takes a lot of time and effort, a lot of being still and making space, a lot of listening and paying attention.  If we are to have any real hope of knowing exactly what the work is that we have been given to do, we must first receive that direction from God, rather than just charging ahead, into our lives, determining for ourselves what our work and our direction will be.  When I finally begin to understand this I can actually hold some hope of someday becoming wise enough to know what it means to number my days aright.

Thursday, December 29, 2016

pierced

And a sword will pierce your soul too. ~Luke 2:35

there is something beautiful
about the sword-pierced soul
a necessity for growth in grace
simeon knew it all too well
he had been around the block a time or two
and therefore saw with a clearer eye

he knew that somehow
through our wounds
a kindness enters in
something that wasn't in existence before
enters the bloodstream
and softens the heart

something is opened up within us
and compassion is born
in a brand new way
a care has taken up residence inside
one that changes our perspective
moving us from i to we

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

seeing and hearing

And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them. (Luke 2:20)


the shepherds
saw and heard

is that because
they were not
so preoccupied
with their own
plans and agendas
but were
open and receptive
to whatever
or whoever
may come along

what if the angels
had come
to the bankers
or the lawyers
or the doctors
or the businessmen
or even the ministers
would they even
have noticed

apparently not
or the angels
would've come to them
on that first christmas day
as the world
was too busy spinning
in their own lives and worlds
to pay attention

not much has changed
in two thousand years

Monday, December 26, 2016

a new song

light has come
into our darkness
sing to the lord
a new song

that sad old refrain
of angst and despair
is no longer
our reality

the sun has risen
on our dark night
hope has been born
in our midst

a new song
has taken up residence
among us
and within us

a song of
life and light
a song of
joy and gladness

sing it
o my soul
shout for joy
and sing

for the king
has been born
the lord our god
is in our midst

Sunday, December 25, 2016

unto you

unto you
a child
is born
unto you
a son
is given

all that
you see
and celebrate
this day
was done
unto you

therefore
this birth
this son
this savior
must also
become
your own

Saturday, December 24, 2016

christmas eve

its almost time

not just by the
tick of the clock
quantitatively
but in terms
of fullness
and ripeness
and readiness
qualitatively
pregnancy time
god is ready
to come forth
from a virgin womb
to be born
into his world
and born
into our hearts
anew

its almost time

come

Let all creation rejoice before the Lord, for he comes...Psalm 96:13

come lord jesus
bring us your joy
bring us your peace
bring us your salvation

bring your light
into our darkness
bring your hope
into our despair
bring your love
into our selfishness

for only
by your coming
do we have a chance
of becoming
what we were
created to be
both individually
and corporately

Friday, December 23, 2016

emptied

o the mystery
the wonder
god emptied himself
into man

he belonged
to us
so that
we might belong
to him

grace
upon grace

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

bethlehem

born in
tiny bethlehem
raised in 
lowly galilee
jesus lived
the first
thirty years
of his life
in utter obscurity
there has to be
something to that

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

magnify

the things that grow
large within me
mostly do so
to my own detriment

but you o lord
when you are magnified
in my soul
instead of my fears and doubts
my anxieties and insecurities
you bring out the best in me
and fill me with your
joy and peace

for my soul was made
to be filled with you
and not all of the
trinkets and trifles
that i regularly allow
to occupy me

for there can be
no room for you
in my soul
when i and so full
of myself

Monday, December 19, 2016

traveling companions

there is a loneliness
to this journey
to this life of faith
that is unavoidable
and undeniable

it is a loneliness
that must be acknowledged
and embraced
rather than denied
or escaped
for no one
can take our journey for us
it is ultimately
ours alone to navigate
as the spirit leads

but there is a kindness
given from time to time
as you provide companions
to travel with us
on our way
kindred spirits
who are familiar
with our path
who understand
our plight
and can walk alongside us
for a time

it is the same kindness
you offered
mary and elizabeth
as they traveled similar
and unfamiliar terrain
you did not have to
give them the gift
of each other
but of course you did
because it is just like you
to be kind to us
and present with us
even when we feel like
we are all on our own



Sunday, December 18, 2016

enveloped

the most high
will overshadow you
he will envelop you
in a haze of brilliancy

he will wrap
his love around you
and conceive
his love within you
in an unspeakably
intimate way
so that you are
pregnant with god
so that you are
changed forever

o the wonder
o the sheer delight
to be enveloped
by the divine

it is more
than we dare
ask or dream
and yet it is
the promise
of the season

so come holy one
in a shining cloud
of glory
and envelop me
in such a way
that there is
no more of me
but only you

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

zechariah

i wonder why the angel made you silent
and unable to speak after you uttered the words
how can i know this is true for i am an old man

was it punishment for unbelief or was it simply
because God didn't want you speaking about
something that you had yet to fully comprehend

so he plunged you into the womb of silence
where what he had just conceived in you
would have time and space to grow and develop
in the warmth and the safety of your own soul
without interference or distraction

could it be that God placed something of himself
in both you and elizabeth at the exact same time
and wanted you to be partners in this becoming

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

theotokos

all god needs
in order to be born
is a womb
a nurturing space
a receptive heart
in which he can
be conceived

in which he can
grow and take shape
within us
so that he might
be born into this
dark and broken world

for we cannot
make it happen ourselves
we cannot
manufacture or produce
what can only happen
organically

so we must wait
willingly and openly
as mary did
and we must say
i am the servant
of the lord
may it be unto me
as you have said

Monday, December 5, 2016

prepare the way

there is much work to be done
in this season of advent
as we prepare the way
for the coming of the king

straight paths must be made
valleys must be raised up
and mountains made low

much construction
and deconstruction
within us and among us
will be necessary

what is crooked
must me made straight
and what is rough
must be made smooth

all in an effort
to prepare for his arrival
whenever and wherever
that may be

come, lord jesus

Thursday, December 1, 2016

God showed up

in the middle of
our broken world
God showed up
in the middle of
our sadness and sorrow
God showed up
in the middle of
our loneliness and isolation
God showed up
in the middle of
our fear and insecurity
God showed up
in the middle of our
darkness and despair
God showed up

that is the beauty
of the season
it always reminds us that
God shows up
maybe not like we
demand or expect
but he shows up
nonetheless
for he cannot stay away
he loves us too much
its just who he is

and since
God showed up
so should we
that through us
he might bring
light and peace
healing and wholeness
hope and compassion
to a broken
and hurting world

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Get Ready for Advent

Watch and Wait: A Guide for Advent and Christmas

Just wanted to remind you that if you (or any of your friends, family, or coworkers) are looking for a companion to journey with you through the seasons of Advent and Christmas, you might want to try Watch and Wait.  It is available on Amazon.

Monday, November 28, 2016

vigilance

advent is a season
for staying vigilant
for being keenly watchful
ever awake and alert

it is a season
for keeping vigil
for wakefulness
maintained
throughout the
darkness of night
when we are most tempted
to drift off into
sleepy inattention
and to become lax and lazy
in our prayer and our practice

vigilance
requires something of us
it demands
an active waiting
an intentional
diligence of heart
a determination
to stay awake
regardless of the cost

for no matter
how much
vigilance may cost
the cost of
falling asleep
is much greater


Sunday, November 27, 2016

hang on

the days are coming
declares the Lord
when I will fulfill
my gracious promise
when I myself
will come down
and be with you
and walk among you
when I myself
will renew and restore
all things
to their creation intent
I will make
the broken things
whole once more
so hang on
do not despair
I'm on my way

Thursday, November 24, 2016

thanksgiving

Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; his steadfast love endures forever. ~Psalm 118:1


It is easy to look at the world we live in, and all of the craziness going on around and within us, and ask the question, "Why?"  But I think this day, Thanksgiving Day, gives us a wonderful opportunity to flip that question around a bit.  Instead of constantly asking why in the negative sense, we are invited to ask why in a more positive sense.  It is a way of asking--or a way of seeing really--that sees all things as a gift, rather than a right or a privilege.  It is a way of asking that sees things as gain rather than as loss.  Instead of mourning the loss of our loved ones with a "Why were they taken from us?" attitude, we are invited to ask instead, "Why were we given the privilege of having them in our lives to begin with?  Why were we given this extraordinary gift?"  Thanksgiving Day invites us into a new way of seeing and thinking.  It is the way of gratitude.  Gratitude recognizes that everyone and everything is a gift, if we will simply choose to see it that way.  It doesn't deny the pain or sadness of hurt and loss, it just gives us the possibility of converting them into joy.  Gratitude allows joy and pain to coexist.  As a matter of fact, it makes space for them to embrace each other.  It makes a way for true healing to occur.

So may each of us today choose to see things through the eyes of gratitude.  May our hearts be filled with joy.  May we overflow with thanksgiving.  Thanks be to God! 

Monday, November 21, 2016

advent

o light
upon you
we wait
as we sit
in our darkness

it is the season
of longing
which we now
enter into

the season
of groaning
the season
of recognizing
that all is not
as it was intended to be
the season in which
we watch and wait
for all to be made right

and so we watch
and we wait
and we yearn
for your coming

and hope
is birthed
within us

we wait for you
o light
to come and shine
to blaze
to drive away
our darkness
our doubt
our fear
our despair
and bring us
the hope of life

and bring us
a little taste
of your kingdom
a little hint
of the way
things were intended
to be
and one day
will be
forever


*Advent begins on Sunday, November 27

Saturday, November 19, 2016

piddling as a spiritual practice

If you really knew me you would know that whenever I am in town I start every morning with a visit to Chick-Fil-A.  It is more than just the food (which is great by the way), it is the space.  For twenty-plus years now Chick-Fil-A, sitting in my car in an isolated corner of the parking lot, has been the place I have spent my time with Jesus.  As a matter of fact, I was there just this morning.  It has been a rich and wonderful space for me, a place where God has met me deeply, a place where I have read and prayed and journaled and groaned and grinned and wept.  It has been a place where God has gotten his hands on me, where he has drawn his lips close to my ear, and drawn my soul close to his heart.  And it is still a place where he continues to transform me. 

Well, today I was about halfway through my morning routine when I went into the restaurant to get a refill, which is also a part of my morning routine.  And seeing as how I've been going to this particular Chick-Fil-A for about 15 years, I know most of the people in the store pretty well by know.  As a matter of fact, I've seen a lot of them come and go through the years.  As I was entering the store two of the "regulars" were on their way out.  And after we exchanged a few words of greeting, one of them said to the other, "You go on, I am going to piddle for a minute."  At which point she came away from the door and began to meander through the restaurant, greeting people and talking to some of the other "regulars."

Something about the way she said it caught me.  And something about what she then starting doing, caught me even more.  And as I walked back to my car I began to think about what I had just seen and heard.  And I began to be captured by the idea, and the practice, of piddling.  And the more I thought about it, the more I saw its spiritual value.  For most of us piddling is not a positive word, or activity.  As a matter of fact, most of the dictionaries I've checked define the word negatively, as the act or habit of wasting time.  But what the world considers wasting time, might be the very thing God requires in order to live life in union with him.  Life with God requires us to live at a different pace, to have a different mindset, to pay attention.  It requires us to not be so hell-bent on activity for activity's sake.  It requires us to not be so controlled by our own schedules, so driven by our own agendas, and so consumed with our own need to be productive and efficient that we miss the things of God that are right under our noses.  Piddling is a refusal to allow our lives to be controlled by a frenzied pace.  It is a determination to live differently; to stop and slow down, to linger and pay attention, to be on the lookout for the deeper things of life that can only been seen and experienced if we slow down and intentionally look below the surface. 

That's the beauty of what this woman was doing.  She was saying, "I'm not ready to rush off to the next thing just yet.  I want to see if there's something else here, something more, something deeper that I would've missed it I wouldn't have been paying attention.  I want to be open to the present moment.  I want to be fully here, explore the here and now, and find its riches.  So, if you don't mind, I think I'm just going to hang around for a while."  May we learn how to do the same.



love versus need

For everyone belongs to me, the parent as well as the child—both alike belong to me. ~Ezekiel 18:4


Let's face it, some things in Scripture are just downright disturbing.  Oh, maybe not disturbing in a chaotic, random, hopeless, makes no sense kind of way, but disturbing in a challenging, unsettling, disorienting and reorienting kind of way.  And this is definitely one of those things: our children belong to God and not to us.  We do not own them, nor can we save them.  And they cannot save us.

We cannot save them from grief and sorrow and sadness.  We cannot save them from sickness and struggle and pain.  We cannot save them from hurt and hardship and brokenness; as much as we might like to think that we can. 

And they cannot save us.  They cannot save us from loneliness and isolation and despair.  They cannot save us from fear and anxiety and insecurity.  They cannot save us from feelings of insignificance and unimportance and unworthiness.  And when we demand or expect them to, it can get ugly really fast.  Because our children belong fully to God, and not to us. Therefore, we must learn to love them well, but we must also learn to hold them loosely. 

My sense is that most of us try to get something from our children that they were never intended to give.  In fact, if we do not get from God, what only he is designed to give us, then we will try to get it from our spouses.  And if we do not get it from our spouses, we will try to get it from our children.  And if we do not get it from our children, we will try to get it from our world--and so goes the downward spiral.  When we live our lives needing and demanding something from the people in our world that they were never designed to fully give, it always leads to dysfunction--unhealthy dependence or enmeshment with those in our lives and world.  Each one of us, first and foremost, belongs to God.  It is he alone that can meet us at our point of deepest need.  And only when we allow him to fully meet us there can we ever hope to be able to truly love those in our families, our lives, and our world without needing to control or manipulate them.

O God, let me never seek (or demand) from someone else what you alone can give.

Sunday, November 13, 2016

eat this scroll

And he said to me, “Son of man, eat what is before you, eat this scroll; then go and speak to the people of Israel.” So I opened my mouth, and he gave me the scroll to eat.
     Then he said to me, “Son of man, eat this scroll I am giving you and fill your stomach with it.” So I ate it, and it tasted as sweet as honey in my mouth.
     He then said to me: “Son of man, go now to the people of Israel and speak my words to them. (Ezekiel 3:1-4)


you must first eat the scroll
you must taste its sweetness
you must be filled with its life
before you can have anything
of real value
to offer the world

you must receive his words
before you can ever truly
speak his words

you must live his message
before you can ever really
give his message

it makes me wonder
why i get it so backwards
all too often



Saturday, November 5, 2016

caring too much

"No servant can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money.”
     The Pharisees, who were lovers of money, heard all these things, and they ridiculed him. And he said to them, “You are those who justify yourselves before men, but God knows your hearts." (Luke 16:13-15)


I don't know about you, but oftentimes I find that I care too much.  I know, I know, it sounds really strange, almost like an oxymoron.  I mean, how can you care too much, right?  But the fact is that you really can, and we often do.  At least I often do. 

I actually think that's what Jesus is saying right here in this conversation with the Pharisees.  They cared too much.  They cared too much about what people thought.  They cared too much about keeping up their image.  They cared too much about their position in society.  They cared too much about maintaining their reputations.  They cared too much about having influence and impact.  And, the truth be known, so do I.  You see, when we care too much--even about things that are good--it gives us a pretty good indication that what we really care about is ourselves, not the person (or thing) that is before us at any particular moment. Our care has subtly shifted from object to subject.

Caring too much is a warning sign that something within us has gone awry, that somehow our affections have become disordered.  Something has become way more important to us than it should be.  In this case, with Jesus and the Pharisees, he is calling their attention to their love of money, but there are so many other things that could be inserted into that blank and the statement would still be true.  Because when we care too much--even about those in our own families--the lines become blurred and we start demanding and expecting things from them that they simply cannot fully give us.  And things just go downhill from there.  As a matter of fact, anytime we become aware of a lack of margins or boundaries in our lives we should become suspicious that somehow we have begun to care too much, somehow our affections have become disordered.  For whenever something, or someone, occupies center stage in our hearts, then that is the thing (or the person) we are truly serving.  Whenever something, or someone, becomes our focal point, all else takes a back seat.  It is just the way we were made. 

Saturday, October 22, 2016

only by prayer

A few months ago I was meeting a good friend for lunch at a local restaurant.  I was a few minutes early , so I decided to go the restroom and wash my hands before he arrived.  As I entered the men's room, I quickly realized that I was a part of a crowd who had apparently all had the same idea.  One of the men was the father of a toddler who couldn't have been more than three years old.  As I waited for the sink to open up, I watched as the father tried to help his young son navigate a world that was far bigger, and way taller, than the little guy could possibly manage.  Nonetheless, as the father tried to help his son through the rigors of a restroom that was made for grown men, the little boy continually insisted that he wanted to do everything by himself.  Yet the geography and the physics of the situation made that impossible.  He couldn't come close to reaching the top of the toilet seat, much to his dismay and annoyance.  Yet with each obstacle that was placed in his path he uttered the words, "By myself.  By myself."  When his father lifted him up on the toilet seat he uttered, "By Myself."  And then when the father picked him up so he could reach the sink he said, with more than a little frustration, "No, no, by myself.  By myself!"  And finally, even when they tried to open the door to leave the restroom, the little boy screamed, "By Myself!" even though he could not even budge the door on his own.  And as I watched this whole thing unfold before my eyes, I thought to myself, "I know that kid."  Then I had a realization, "Wait a minute.  I am that kid." 

Flashback to a fall day in 1984.  I had just gone on the Young Life staff in Charlotte, North Carolina and had found out that one of the two schools I would be working with was a small private school where they were hoping to start Young Life.  A few leaders were on the team and they had slowly begun going to the high school to befriend high school kids wherever and however they could.  So one of my very first days in Charlotte, thinking a lot more of myself and my abilities than I probably should have, I charged off to the school, totally planning to take it by storm once I arrived.  I got out of my car, went to the office, introduced myself to a few administrators, and headed off to the lunchroom; fully intending to have every kid in the school enamored and captivated in about an hour's time.  As I busted through the lunchroom door, I noticed that it was one of the smaller school cafeterias I had ever been in, holding roughly seventy-five kids.  And as the door opened, everyone in the room stopped and looked at me.  I totally froze.  Feeling their eyes burning into me, and needing to diffuse the awkwardness and tension as quickly as possible, I walked right through the lunchroom and out the back door into the courtyard.  What a disaster.  I thought about getting back in my car and leaving town immediately, driving all the way back to Knoxville where I was known and loved and forgetting about this whole Young Life staff thing forever.  But instead I sat down on a bench in the courtyard and tried to collect myself.  I turned to God, in humiliation and failure and fear, and cried out for him to be the one to do this ministry, and not me.  Finally, God had me where he wanted me.  A few minutes later, I slunk back in very quietly and tried to strike up a conversation with a few kids.  I actually only met one kid that day.  His name was Rick.  Needless to say I didn't take anything by storm.  It was actually the beginning of a long, humbling, wonderful process.  I did, however, happen to see Rick at the football game that Friday night and got to say hello to him.  When I did, he stopped in amazement and said, "You remembered my name.  I don't think anyone has ever remembered my name."  And so it had begun.  But first I'd had to learn some things the hard way.

In case you haven't noticed by now, I have a tendency to charge ahead, trying to do life and ministry on my own; or by myself , as the case may be.  The problem is that when I do that, it doesn't usually end up quite like I'd hoped it would, and even less, I'm sure, like God hoped it would.  It's usually not a pretty sight.  So, as much as I'd like to deny it, I am, indeed, that kid.  Glad to know that I'm not the only one.

The disciples did the same thing.  Just look in Mark 9:14-29.  Jesus had just come down from the Mount of Transfiguration with his three closest friends, while the rest of the disciples were trying to "minister" to the people down in the valley.  But it wasn't going too well.  And when Jesus and the other three disciples arrived they found themselves in the midst of a complete mess.  It was chaos.  A father had come, begging the disciples to heal his demon possessed son, but try as they might, the disciples just couldn't do it.  I guess that should've been lesson number one to them--apart from Jesus we, not one of us, can do it, whatever it may be.  It makes me wonder why I continually try; when doing life that way can only end up in frustration and failure.

"O faithless generation," Jesus replies.  "How long am I to bear with you.  Bring the boy to me."  Which becomes lesson number two.  Whenever we face anything that is beyond our capacity or capability--which, in all honesty, is just about everything--the answer is to simply bring it (or them) to Jesus.  The life of faith and ministry is not complicated, although we tend to make it that way more often than not.  Whoever, or whatever, it is, bring it to Jesus.  "Stop trying to do it by yourself.  Bring your friend, your issue, your wound, your obstacle, to me.  That's what true ministry is all about." 

Well, to make a long story short, Jesus healed the boy and gave him, both healed and whole, back to his father.  And after he did, the disciples came to him in private and asked' "Why could we not drive it out?"  And Jesus' answer is priceless: "This kind cannot be driven out by anything but prayer."  In other words, "You can't do it by yourself.  Why do you continually try?"  And can't you just see the disciples looking at each other in shock and embarrassment as they realize, "We didn't pray.  Why didn't we pray?"

Which leads me back to my own tendency to try and do things by myself.  And leads me to the very same question the disciples were asking themselves: "Why don't I pray?  I mean, really pray."  Where is prayer in my life and ministry?  And how can I embrace, and practice, prayer in a way that recognizes and nurtures my dependence of God?

Not to long after my little episode in the high school cafeteria in Charlotte, my Area Director gave me a training assignment.  He wanted me to visit another city and follow another Area Director around for a day and see what it looked like to do life and ministry.  He had even picked out the place and the person he wanted me to visit--Ken Schultz, who was in Johnson City, Tennessee at the time.  My Area Director said that Ken's Young Life club at Science Hill High School was one of the largest in the entire region, and he wanted me to find out why.  Sounded like a great assignment to me and I was really excited about it, so I made arrangements to spend a day with Ken and to go with him to his Young Life club that night. 

When I arrived in Johnson City, Ken greeted me warmly and gave me a little outline of the night ahead.  And as we jumped into his car and headed toward the place they had club he said to me, "Now I have to warn you about something before we get there.  We spend the first hour of our team meeting before club in prayer.  I don't care if the skit is not done, I don't care if the songs are not done, I don't even care if the talk is not done.  For that hour before club we pray."  And sure enough that's exactly what we did.  We arrived at the house and everyone was scurrying around in typical fashion, trying to get all of their ducks in a row for club.  But when Ken and I walked in, everything stopped, and for one hour we prayed.  Now I have to be really honest with you, up until that point in my life (I was probably around 24 at the time) I'm not sure I'd ever prayed for one continual hour without stopping.  But for a solid hour we prayed, and it was wonderful.  We prayed for kids, we prayed for families, we prayed for God's Spirit to be unleashed and move powerfully.  We prayed for hurts and pains and challenges and conflicts.  We prayed for the school and the administrators and the community and the church.  We prayed for God to show up and to heal and to save.  We prayed for everything.  And not long after we finished praying, hundreds of kids poured into the room for club.  It was a typical Young Life club.  It was even a good Young Life club.  But the one thing that made it what it was, was prayer.  It was prayer that made it the biggest Young Life club in the region.

A year later Ken actually moved to Charlotte and was my Area Director for the second year of my training.  Being as young and curious as I was, one day I just started asking him about the details of his life.  "What time do you get up in the morning?" I asked.  And when he told me, I was amazed that anyone could humanly get up that early and still function throughout the day.  So I asked him why he got up so early.  And, among other things, he told me it was because of prayer.  "With all of the things God has given me responsibility over each day, I dare not leave my house in the morning without having spent at least an hour in prayer."  And ever so slowly I was beginning to get the picture.

What about you?  Where is prayer for you?  Where is it in your life?  Where is it in your ministry?  Oswald Chambers once said that "Prayer is the way the life of God within us is nourished."  Is your soul and your ministry being constantly nourished by the reality and the practice of prayer?  Or are you, like me, still too often trying to do it by yourself?

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

a leper's lament


I roam the countryside, fully knowing the ugliness of my affliction, fully feeling the brunt of it each moment of each day.  Mine is a lonely and tortured existence.  What others see on the outside is only the tip of the iceberg compared to the pain and the hurt and the brokenness that lies within.  They see the leprosy, but I see the hopelessness.  I see the debris from the wreckage of feeling totally worthless.  I know the bottomless depths of my self-contempt, and I am helpless to do anything about it.  Oh, I’ve tried and tried, but all has failed to offer a solution for my inner and outer turmoil.  I cannot cleanse, nor heal, myself, so I roam about, desperately seeking healing, or relief, or the faintest glimmer of hope, wherever I might find it.  Hope that somehow, some way, someone—anyone—might help me make some sense of this mess of a life I am trapped inside of.  “Have mercy!” is the constant cry of my soul.  Please, help!  Anyone!  O Jesus, Master, Son of David, can you help me!  O please, Great Physician, have mercy on me and heal my affliction!  For only you can offer the healing and the wholeness I so desperately need.  Will you?

Sunday, October 2, 2016

true


“Here is a true Israelite, in whom there is nothing false.” (John 1:47)  What a beautiful statement. Jesus saw Nathanael approaching and that is what he said.  The word used here (eidō) tells us that he didn’t just see Nathanael, but he saw into Nathanael.  And when he saw into the heart of Nathanael, he saw that there was nothing false.  The Greek word for false is dolos, which means deceit or trickery.  Thus, Nathanael was not pretending to be someone he was not.  He was not covering up or hiding behind anything.  He was not posturing or jockeying for position.  He was not acting or trying to fool anyone.  He was simply being himself.  He was being his true—created in the image of God—self.  I think that’s why Nathanael responds to Jesus with the beautiful words, “How do you know me?”  He didn’t argue with Jesus or try to correct him.  He didn’t try to deflect or deny the statement, he simply embraced it.  I think Nathanael did this because he knew to his core that he was being exactly who God made him to be.

O how I long for the same.  Don’t you?  How I long to be the beautiful creation that God intended me to be when he breathed me into being.  But, more often than not, I tend to be something else altogether.  I do not regularly live out of my true self, but out of some distorted version of that.  I tend to live out of a false self instead.  That self that is a product of my deepest fears, doubts, and insecurities.  That self that is constantly trying to prove to myself and my world that I am, indeed, worth loving.  It is what I like to call the manufactured self, because it is a self of my own making; a response to my trying to create an identity for myself out of fear that the one I’ve been given is not good enough.  And any identity (or self) that I create can only be false, because my true identity can only be given (bestowed) to me by the One who made me.

Lord Jesus, help me to be my best self today; the one you dreamt me to be when you breathed me into existence.  Amen.

Thursday, September 22, 2016

solitude and silence

“Come with me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest.” ~Mark 6:31


Solitude and silence are a beautiful invitation from God.  They are an invitation to stop, to cease striving, to rest, and to breathe.  They are an invitation to be renewed and restored.  In a world where we are constantly on the go, living in a constant exhale, solitude and silence provide an opportunity to inhale.  They allow the life-giving Spirit of God the space and the time to blow his fresh wind into our parched and weary souls. Thus, solitude and silence are essential for both our spiritual and our physical well-being.  They offer us an invitation to come to him, to release our burdens, and to enjoy his presence, his peace, and his rest.

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

nain

     Soon afterward, Jesus went to a town called Nain, and his disciples and a large crowd went along with him. As he approached the town gate, a dead person was being carried out—the only son of his mother, and she was a widow. And a large crowd from the town was with her. When the Lord saw her, his heart went out to her and he said, “Don’t cry.”
     Then he went up and touched the bier they were carrying him on, and the bearers stood still. He said, “Young man, I say to you, get up!” The dead man sat up and began to talk, and Jesus gave him back to his mother.
     They were all filled with awe and praised God. “A great prophet has appeared among us,” they said. “God has come to help his people.” This news about Jesus spread throughout Judea and the surrounding country. (Luke 7:11-17)



Where is God when we are in pain?  It is an age-old question.  One that, depending on how we answer it, can significantly impact our view of, and our relationship with, God.  Because when we are in pain our tendency is to think that God either does not care, or that he is not good.  Either he does care enough to do anything about our suffering, or he can’t do anything about it.  Or maybe, even worse, he won’t do anything about it.  All of which leave us either angry and frustrated, or anxious and insecure.

Then along comes Jesus, the one who was sent to reveal to us the heart of the Father.  Jesus, since he is God in the flesh, shows us exactly how God feels about our pain.  And not only that, he also shows us how God longs to redeem that pain, in his own time and in his own way.

On this occasion Jesus comes across a woman who has just lost her only son; and that after she had already lost her husband.  Can you imagine the grief and the sadness and the pain?  Maybe you can.  Maybe you have been there.  Maybe you are there.  Life has dealt her two crushing blows back-to-back, and she is left reeling.  “Where in the world is God?” she must be thinking in the midst of the chaos, “Doesn’t he even care?”

Enter Jesus.  And when Jesus sees her, immediately his heart goes out to her (NIV).  He is heartbroken (The Message).  His heart overflows with compassion (NLT).  He is moved with love and compassion for her from the very depths of his being.  That is how God feels about her pain.  That is how God feels about your pain.  He is brokenhearted.  Her broken life is not at all the way he intended it to be.  But, even still, in the midst of her grief, God is able to redeem her pain.

Jesus stops the procession, approaches the coffin, places his hand on it, and calls the young man back to life.  The young man sits up and begins to speak.  Then Jesus gives the young man back to his mother.  God redeems her pain.  God brings life out of death, just the way he always does.  Tears turn to laughter, sadness to joy, mourning to dancing.  And that is the way it will be for your pain as well.  Maybe not today, but someday.  Someday your pain will be redeemed.  Someday your sorrow will be turned to joy.  Someday Jesus will tenderly touch your face and wipe every tear from your eyes.  And sorrow and sadness will be no more.

And they were all filled with awe and praised God (NIV), the Scriptures tell us.  "God has come to help his people," they said. In fact, he has turned his face towards his people (JBP).  God is not distant.  He is not disinterested.  He is not uncaring.  He is not far off.  He is right here, right in the midst of our pain.

Why is there so much pain and suffering in the world?  The only honest answer to that question is that I have absolutely no idea.  How does God feel about that pain and suffering, and where is he in the midst of it?  The answer to those two questions is a little more clear, all because of Jesus.  God is heartbroken over our pain.  And he is right in the middle of it.  That’s why he came to earth in the first place; to both share our suffering and to bear our suffering, that one day it might all be redeemed, just like it was in Nain.    

Friday, September 2, 2016

poiema


For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them. ~Ephesians 2:10


How does it make you feel to know that God sees you as his workmanship, his masterpiece?  The Greek word used here is poiēma.  Thus, we are God’s poem, his work of art, an expression of his divine love, care, and creativity.  We are something so wonderful and so unique that mere prose is not adequate enough to communicate it.  Only poetry can even begin to capture the awesome wonder of what he did when he breathed you into being.  You were made in order to reflect and express the beauty and the goodness of his character to the world in a way no one else can or will.  What a high and holy calling. 

Sunday, August 28, 2016

focus

As Jesus and his disciples were on their way, he came to a village where a woman named Martha opened her home to him. She had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet listening to what he said. But Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made. She came to him and asked, “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!”
     “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 10:38-42)


Focus is everything in the spiritual life.  It is so easy to get distracted, just ask Martha.  It seems that the more we focus on the problems, or the challenges, or the obstacles, or the enormous amount of things to do, the more overwhelmed and frustrated we become.  The “many things” dominate us.  They cause us to live our lives worried and upset, or, in the Greek, torn in two with many cares.

The truth is that only one care really matters.  If we can train our hearts and minds to focus first on Jesus, if we can sit at his feet and listen to what he says rather than be dragged around by the many things pulling on our hearts and minds, then that changes everything.  That puts everything else in proper perspective.  That allows us to look past the chaos on the surface and instead be ruled by the peace and presence of Christ deep in our hearts and souls.  Then we are not dominated by trying to keep all of our plates spinning, but are able to be centered on him instead.  The question is, “Will I focus on the plates, or will I focus on the point?”

Friday, August 19, 2016

first

But when the Pharisees heard that he had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered together. And one of them, a lawyer, asked him a question to test him. “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.” (Matthew 22:34-40)



First and second.  The order is important.  If we get it backwards everything goes haywire, but maybe not at first.  Most often it is a slow, subtle slide.  When we are not putting the first love first we start expecting and demanding way more out of the people and things in our world than they were ever intended—or are able—to give.  Then, instead of loving them, we start extorting love out of them.  We become demanding and controlling and manipulative, and that is not love.  They are actually the warning signs that we have our affections out of order.  For the second love can be only a reflection of the first.

O Lord, my God, help me to love you first: before my loved ones, before my friends, before my job, before my ministry, before my achievements, before my circumstances, before my comfort, before my needs, and before myself.  For only then can I love the way you designed me to love.  Amen.

Thursday, August 18, 2016

go


Nowhere in Scripture do we get a better view into what Jesus desires ministry to look like than in Luke 10 and Matthew 10.  They are the chapters in which Jesus gives instructions to his disciples before he sends them out to be his hands and his feet in the world.  And you don’t have to go very far in either passage before you run into a crucial word—Go!  Jesus, from his very first words on the subject of ministry, wants us to make no mistake about the fact that ministry is something we must go to do.  That is because this going is the very essence of the incarnation itself.  It is what he did.  God came to us, in our world, on our turf, in our form, speaking our language, to show us how deeply we are loved.  Why then should we think that the ministry he calls each of us to would be any different?  Ministry is always about going, and if we are not going then we are not doing ministry according to Jesus’ model.  It is the essence of the life Jesus lived and the essence of the life he calls us to.  He tells us to come first to him, and then go to others (Matthew 9:1-2).

“Do not make them come to you.  Go to them!  I am sending you out as lambs among wolves.  Go!  Walk your community, build relationships with those you come across, love them with my love, meet them where they are, care for their needs, and speak to them about my love and my Kingdom.  Go!  Proclaim in word and in deed the reality of my presence and my love.  Go!  Be an agent of peace, an agent of healing, and agent of wholeness.  Go!”

We cannot just stay put and hope that somehow the lost and the broken will come to us.  Rarely, if ever, will they do that.  We must go to them; walking our own neighborhoods and communities, engaging people along the way, trying to get to really know them and love them, and being willing to be known in return.  We must know their names and learn their stories.  We must hear their struggles and share their pains.  We must offer them the healing and the hope of the gospel.  We must speak the message, “The kingdom of God has come near to you.”  And we must flesh out that reality in our lives, because the Spirit of the King lives in each of us. 

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

salt and light

Being salt and light seems like a delicate balance. A balance between being and doing. A balance between drawing attention to God versus drawing attention to ourselves. And a balance between trying too hard versus not trying hard enough. It can be difficult to find that fruitful middle ground.

When we try too hard, for example, we can have a tendency to overpower people. After all, too much salt can destroy a perfectly good meal, and too much light can be blinding. They both must be applied in the right amounts. They both must realize their role in the process. When salt or light become the point, rather than something that accentuates or illuminates the point (Jesus), then they have become a hindrance rather than a help. Be honest, we have all experienced that before, either in ourselves or others. And it ends up driving people away from the kingdom rather than drawing them toward it.

The problem begins when salt loses its desire to just be salt, and instead wants to become the whole meal. Or when light loses its interest in just being light and wants to become the city it is meant to illuminate. When we start wanting to be seen or noticed, rather than simply wanting to accentuate or illuminate God, the whole process goes haywire. We get in the way of what God is trying to do, rather than enabling it. So, may we all, each and every one of us, only desire that people taste and see Jesus. For when they do, then and only then will they be able to "taste and see that the Lord is good."

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

healing

the way
is not out
but through
not escape
but embrace
not in spite of
but because of
 
the easy way
offers nothing
but escape
no change
only relief
temporarily
but in the end
it leaves us
the same
 
the healing way
is through
rather than around
this is the way
that marks
and transforms
calling us to become

Thursday, August 4, 2016

top ten

I don't know how many times through the years I have been asked variations of the same question: "What is your favorite book?"  Or, "What books have had the most significant impact on your life?"  It is a really tough question.  One I've never had a really good answer for.  So I decided to spend some time thinking about that.  And since I've always felt like it was impossible to pick just one, I decided to give a top ten.  And even that makes me sad about all the books I had to leave out.  Nevertheless, here's what I came up with: 


The Sacred Romance: They say timing is everything and this book came into my life when a deep shift in how I see and experience God was just beginning to happen.  It certainly helped that shift in a major way.

The Road to Daybreak: Although this spot in the list should actually say "any book by Henri Nouwen," it is this one, early on, that impacted my life and journey the most.

A Testament of Devotion: At a time in when I was longing for more in my relationship with Jesus, this book was an incredible companion and guide.  As soon as I read the first few pages I knew that this book was speaking with a voice I had been missing, and yearning for, all of my life.

Disciplines for the Inner Life: This book provided a rhythm and a structure to my time with God that significantly shaped and formed who I am today.  I have used it over and over and over again through the years, and each time it is still fresh and new.

A Traveler Toward the Dawn: The journey of an ordinary man who had an extraordinary life with God.  I can't tell you how many times I have read this book through the years, yet each time it has meet me right in the midst of wherever I found myself in my journey with Jesus.

Between the Dreaming and the Coming True: This book was the beginning of a dear and wonderful friendship, as well as another significant shift in the depth and quality of my life with God.  It offered the addition of yet another significant voice in my life that would deeply impact my soul, as well as my practice.  Like Nouwen, I would say that any book by Robert Benson could fit in this line, but since I read this one first it will always be near and dear to my heart.

The Book of Hours: Never has a poet spoken as clearly and deeply to my heart and soul as Rainer Maria Rilke.  His work is both incredibly beautiful and wonderfully accessible.

The Chronicles of Narnia: How someone could be brilliant enough to write such imaginative stories that tell us the Deeper Story of our hearts and souls is simply beyond me.  Every time I read them again they just do something magical in my heart and soul.

Everything Belongs: Richard Rohr's understanding of the dynamics of the spiritual life are uncanny.  Every time I read this book it somehow finds a way to penetrate me even deeper.

The Pastor: If you have ever read Eugene Peterson, or heard him speak, you quickly realize that he "gets it."  He has a wisdom and an understanding of the dynamics of spiritual life and ministry that could only have come through years and years of both doing ministry and being with Jesus.  He is able to see through all of our well constructed arguments defending the busyness and hurry of our lives and is able to speak clearly and prophetically about our need to slow down, make space, and listen to the voice of our God.  This is an important book for our day and our culture.