Sunday, April 24, 2016

as i have loved you

“As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” (John  13:34-35)


I don't know about you, but most often, when I read these verses, the first thing that arises are a list of oughts and shoulds that primarily focus on how poorly I love.  But today was different.  Today God gave me a sweet invitation.  Today God said, "Stop focusing on yourself and instead focus on me.  After all, the sentence begins, 'As I have loved you.'  Why not focus on my love, and how I have loved you?  I have loved you fully.  I have loved you completely.  I have loved you unconditionally.  I have pursued you.  I have embraced you.  I have romanced you.  I have drawn near to you.  I have whispered my affections in your ear.  I have listened to you.  I have guided you.  I have protected you.  I have provided for you.  I have been present to you.  I have comforted you.  I have even given my life for you.  Let my love overwhelm and overcome you.  Let my love completely capture you.  Then all of the rest will take care of its self."  



Monday, April 18, 2016

listen

Come, all you who are thirsty, come to the waters; and you who have no money, come buy and eat!  Come, buy wine and milk without money and without cost.  Why spend money on what is not bread, and your labor on what does not satisfy?  Listen, listen to me and eat what is good, and your soul will delight in the richest of fare.  Give ear to me and come to me; listen, that you may live. ~Isaiah 55:1-3


I am becoming more and more convinced that listening to God is one of the most important practices in all of the spiritual life.  I am also becoming more and more convinced that it is something we do far too seldom.  Maybe it's because we are afraid that if we really try to listen to God, he will not say anything, which will lead us to doubt, hopelessness, and despair.  Or maybe, on the other hand, we are afraid that he will say something, but not the something we were hoping to hear.  In either case we cannot deny the importance of the practice.  It is mentioned so frequently in the Scriptures.  For it is in the listening, and then in the hearing, that we find life.

So today I asked myself (or maybe God asked me, come to think of it), "What do I think God is trying to say to me today?"  And here was the reply: "Relax.  Stop trying so hard.  Find rest in me.  Unburden yourself.  Live at peace in me.  Breathe.  Be free."  Now that's something worth listening to!

Saturday, April 16, 2016

the bread of anxious toil

Whenever streams begin to converge in my soul, I know that God is up to something.  Sometimes I notice it early on, and sometimes I have to see or hear the same theme numerous times before I realize that God is trying to get my attention.  Well, it happened again this week.  And I'm trying to remember exactly where and how it started.

It most likely started with John 6, which has been the place I have been camped out for the past week or so in my time with God.  It is the chapter where Jesus reveals that he is the bread of life, and invites each of us to feed on him rather than eating bread that does not last, does not truly feed our souls, and does not sustain our inner lives.  I was struck by how easily and often I am enticed away from the Bread of Life to feed on the things of this world instead.  I feed on affirmation, accomplishment, and success.  I feed on achievement, reputation, and being significant in the lives of others.  I feed on replies, responses, retweets, blog views, and good reviews.  The list goes on and on.  And when I feed on all of those things something goes haywire deep in my soul.  Suddenly, it's all up to me to feed myself.

Well, that was the backdrop of what was going on in me as I led a retreat last week.  And it was really interesting, in a streams converging type of way.  The type of way that helps you begin to recognize that God is up to something.  As we began the retreat, and shared where we were coming from as we started our time together, it was remarkable how consistent the theme of busyness, fatigue, filled spaces, and spiritual dryness was.  Apparently, and unfortunately, all of us had been having a similar experience.  We were all feeding, to some degree, on things other than Christ and it was having a significant effect on our souls.

A few days later I was teaching a class on Luke 10:38-42, that oh so familiar story of Martha and Mary.  You know, the one where Martha is distracted and unable to be present to Jesus because of the million-and-one things that had to be done.  Interestingly enough, the word from distracted in the Greek is perispaƍ, which means to draw or drag around.  Somehow the things that had to be done were affecting Martha at a deep level.  I'm not Martha, so I can't really tell you exactly what it was that was going on within her.  I can't tell you what chord it struck or what worldview it was colliding with.  All I can tell you is that she was feeling dragged around.  Life was living her instead of she living life.  Maybe something about her worth and value was tied up in things looking perfect when everyone, especially Jesus, came into her home.  That's pretty noble, right?  Well, it might appear so on the surface, but Jesus could see to the core of the issue and spoke directly to it.  Martha, Martha, you are worried and upset about many things, but only one thing is necessary (essential).  Mary has chosen what is better (the good part) and it will not be taken from her.  Not that Martha had chosen anything bad, but what Mary chose was better.  Martha was being dragged around because she had attached herself to something other than Jesus, and Mary was not.  Mary had attached herself to the One thing.  Martha was eating the bread of anxious toil (Psalm 127:2) rather than feeding on the Bread of Life.  Which made me begin to wonder what Martha's mindset, or worldview was.

But Martha's mindset doesn't matter.  We can spend hours rushing to Martha's defense with all kinds of explanations and rationalizations, which we often do.  Sometimes I wonder if Martha might not be the most defended character in the New Testament.  And she is that because of what she brings up in each of us.  You see, this story isn't just about Martha, it is about me, and you.  What is my mindset?  What is our worldview?  What is it about us, or in us, that causes us to feed on things other than Jesus?  Why do I eat the bread of anxious toil instead of feasting on the Bread of Life? 

Maybe Psalm 127 carries at least part of the answer.  That was my next step in this journey.  Unless the Lord builds the house, it starts out, those who build it labor in vain.  Could it be that somehow I believe that I am responsible for building my own house, whatever that may be?  Could I believe, in my heart of hearts, that somehow it's all up to me?  It is on me to get it done, to make it happen.  That is one possibility.  Another is that somehow, whether I believe it's on me or not, I am determined to build my own house.  I am determined to be the one who decides what it looks like.  I am determined to be the one who chooses the size and the layout and the paint colors.  But apparently both options lead to the same destination--eating the bread of anxious toil--because we do not have the power or the ability to control all of the variables involved.  Thus, there can never be any rest.  But, on the other hand, if we allow the Lord to build the house, then he will grant sleep to his beloved.

Which brings me back to John 6, and ultimately to Isaiah 55:1-3.  Will I choose to feed on Jesus (like Mary), or will I choose to eat the bread of anxious toil (like Martha).  The invitation of Jesus is to feed on the Bread that lasts, the Bread that is real, the Bread that is true food.  Just listen to the invitation:  Come, all you who are thirsty, come to the waters; and you who have no money, come, buy and eat!  Come buy wine and milk without money and without cost.  Why spend money on what is not bread, and your labor on what does not satisfy?  Listen, listen to me, and eat what is good, and your soul will delight in the richest of fare.  Give ear and come to me; hear me, that your soul may live.  Listen, listen to me.  Give ear and come to me.  Just like Mary, who sat at the Lord's feet listening to what he said.  Apparently listening is a pretty key part in feeding on Jesus.  So let's do that!  

Sunday, April 3, 2016

peace be with you

     A week later his disciples were in the house again, and Thomas was with them. Though the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!” Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe.”
     Thomas said to him, “My Lord and my God!” (John 20:26-28)


Me: Lord, is my anxiety, at its core, really unbelief?
Jesus: What do you think?
Me: I'm afraid it is, but unbelief sounds like such an ugly, harsh word.
Jesus: Unbelief has many faces.  Unfortunately, anxiety is one of the faces you are most familiar with.
Me: Well, that's really humbling.  Because not a day goes by, and in some instances not a minute goes by, when I  am not battling anxiety.
Jesus: Then stop doubting and believe.
Me: Is it really that easy?
Jesus: I never said it was easy, but it is that simple.  Most things in the spiritual life are.
Me: How do I do that?
Jesus: Look at what I did with Thomas, that will give you a hint.  Jim, my deepest wish for you is my deepest wish for all of my sons and daughters--my peace.  Which is not just a feeling, but the state of being whole and free.  And you become whole and free by truly believing how deeply and passionately (and freely) you are loved.
Me: I long to know that love and that peace more deeply, in a way that completely transforms everything about me.
Jesus: Then put your finger here, touch my wounds.  Reach out your hand and put it into my side.  Stop doubting and believe.  Stop doubting your value and your worth.  Stop thinking that you must earn my love and affection.  Stop trying so hard to prove to yourself and your world that you are worth loving.  Stop doubting my love for you, instead touch my wounds and know that it's true.  I love you.  Believe it.  Believe it with all your heart.  Peace be with you!
Me: My Lord and my God!