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.