Thursday, November 30, 2017

the blue book is now available on amazon


Exciting News!  The Blue Book is now available on Amazon!  And not only that, but it also has a bunch of new content!  I've been working for the past year or so to write an opening reflection for each chapter and I'm really excited about the end result.  I hope you will be too.  So please spread the word.  Tell your friends that the strange blue devotional book that has always been so hard to find, is hard to find no more.

*Update: Thanks for the great response!  Glad to see the book still seems to be helpful to so many in making space to hear God's voice and know of his great affection.  Since the book has been released on Amazon I do, however, find that I miss the contact with many of you.  I miss hearing the stories of how God has used the book in your life or ministry.  So, if you have the time, I would love it if you would just leave your comments here, or drop by Amazon and give a review.  And, as always, feel free to email me with your Blue Book story if you'd like.  I love hearing them. Blessings, Jim



Monday, October 9, 2017

yoke

Come to me 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. (Matthew 11:28-30)


What yoke are you wearing these days?  It seems like a bit of an odd question, doesn't it?  What the heck is a yoke anyway?  

According to the dictionary, a yoke is a device for joining together a pair of draft animals, especially oxen, usually consisting of a crosspiece with two bow-shaped pieces, each enclosing the head of an animal.  The Greek word used here is zygos, which comes from the root zeugnumi, meaning to join.  So when Jesus invites us to take his yoke upon us, he is inviting us to join ourselves to him in some mysteriously intimate way.  He is inviting us to do life with him in such a way that he bears the brunt of the burden, not us.  Thus, the end result of us taking his yoke upon us is rest for our souls.  It follows that if we are weary and burdened in our lives, we must be wearing a yoke other than that of Jesus.  Someone or something has slipped in and put a load on us that we were never meant to bear.

So I ask again, what yoke are you wearing these days, and where did it come from?  What burdens are you carrying?  What load is upon you?  Is it possible that you have taken on a yoke than is not meant for you?  A load that only Jesus can carry?

An old legend goes that Jesus, being a the son of a carpenter, specialized in yokes.  People would come from miles around because he was the best.  He was the only one who could make a yoke that was perfectly fit for the animal that was to wear it.  And he does the same with each of us.  He has made a yoke that is perfectly fit for you and for me.  Why would we wear anything else?  But we do.  We continually carry burdens that are not our own.  We continually wear a yoke that was put upon us, either by ourselves, or by others, or by the world.

The yoke of this world says, "increase," but the yoke of Jesus says, "decrease."  The yoke of the world says, "climb," but the yoke of Jesus says, "descend."  The yoke of the world says, "make yourself something," but the yoke of Jesus says, "make yourself nothing."  The world's yoke will exhaust you and wear you out, but the yoke of Jesus will renew and restore you to your true self.  "My yoke fits perfectly," says Jesus, "because it was made for you.  Wear my yoke, take it upon you, and you will find rest for your souls."

through

Blessed are those who dwell in your house; they are ever praising you.  Blessed are those whose strength is in you, who have set their hearts on pilgrimage.  As they pass through the Valley of Baca, they make it a place of springs; the autumn rains also cover it with pools.  They go from strength to strength, till each appears before God in Zion. ~Psalm 84:4-7


All of us, at some point in our lives, must travel through the Valley of Weeping (Baca in Hebrew means "weeping")--it is simply unavoidable.  It is an inevitable part of this life.  Therefore, we should not be surprised, or disgusted, when we find ourselves in its midst.  That is why the one who has set his heart on pilgrimage is blessed.  He realizes that the journey through this difficult terrain is simply a part of the trek.  Because of that, he is able to make the Valley of Weeping into a place of springs. 

You see, adversity comes to us all.  The key lies in how each of us chooses to travel this stretch of the journey.  We must not allow the experience of pain and suffering to make us angry or bitter.  We must not allow ourselves to get depressed and discouraged.  We must not lose heart.  We must realize that there is no way out, only through.  We must realize that even this (whatever this may be), as difficult as it is, can have a positive result in God's economy.  We must realize that God often uses the most difficult things in our lives to accomplish some of the best results within us.  We must realize that God is so big that he can use the heartache and heartbreak of this life to nourish and nurture and strengthen our hearts and souls in ways that nothing else can; and that we will be better, stronger, more loving men and women at the end of this journey than we were at the beginning.  Thus, we become able to move from strength to strength, until each of us stands before God in Zion. 

The Valley of Weeping need not defeat us, or throw us into despair, but holds the possibility of making us more the ones God intended us to be when he breathed us into being.  God is our strength.  He is with us in the midst of the struggle.  He is using the Valley of Weeping in the process of us becoming all he dreamt us to be.

So the morale of the story (or the Psalm) seems to be this: When adversity comes--and it will--remember that there is no way out, only through.  God is with you.  He is your strength.  He will make a way for you.  So put your trust in him.

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

be exalted

whenever i begin
to think that this life
is all about me
be exalted o lord

whenever i forget
that i am only a small part
of your good creation
be exalted o lord

whenever i get
confused and consumed
by the worries of this world
be exalted o lord

whenever i start
spinning around in
my own needs and concerns
be exalted o lord

and remind me
that this life
is not about me
but about you


Monday, September 25, 2017

more is not better

I did it again.  Once again, I fell into that old familiar trap, that way of thinking that is advocated, supported, and even promoted by the world in which we live.  It is a philosophy of life that says more is always better.  I know, I know, I should know better.  After all, my life and my vocation revolve around constantly trying to remind people that: being is more important than doing; our identity is not earned but bestowed; silence and solitude and prayer are the most important things that can occupy our souls, and our agendas; the one thing is more important than the many things (Luke 10:41-42); and loving the Lord your God with all of your heart and soul and mind  and strength, always comes before loving your neighbor as yourself (Mark 12:30)  

But every now and then, I still fall into the trap.  I start allowing my desire for affirmation and achievement and significance and impact to lure me away from simply living my life in and with God, and letting everything else take care of itself.  It is a subtle shift, one that is hard to notice.  Even one that I try to put a noble face on from time to time.  After all, isn't this life about spreading his word and serving the poor and reaching the lost?  Of course it is.  But when those things become the end, rather than God, we have reduced Him merely to a means.  Instead of being with God, just to be with him, we start being with him in order to get something else (even if that something else is seemingly a good thing).  Try that with those you love the most in your life and tell me how it goes.  No one wants to be used.  We all want to be valued and loved for who we are, not what we can do.  It is the same with God.  God wants to be the end, not just a means to some other end, even if that end is ministry.  Are we loving God for God's sake, or are we "loving" God for the sake of our ministries?  C. S. Lewis put it so beautifully when he said: "He can't be used as a road.  If you're approaching Him not as the goal, but as a road, not as the end but as a means, you're not really approaching Him at all."

I guess it all goes back to what we really believe.  Do we believe that we are put here on this earth to do stuff for God?  Or do we believe that we are put here, first and foremost, to enjoy God and to be enjoyed by him?  John Piper once said that, "The chief end of man is to glorify God by enjoying him forever."  Thus, our spiritual lives, and our spiritual disciplines, are not for the sole purpose of preparation for ministry, but to make space for us to enjoy God and be enjoyed by him.  That is what transforms us.  That is what gives fuel to our lives of ministry.  It is so easy for me to get it all turned around.  Is ministry my goal, or is God my goal?  Something tells me that if God is not my true goal, my true end, then my life and my ministry will never be what he desires them to be.

Saturday, September 23, 2017

perfume

she has done a beautiful thing to me. ~mark 14:6

i pour out my love
the contents of my heart
upon your head
my dear lord jesus

i give you my heart
my adoration
my affection
my delight

may it be like perfume
on your head

Thursday, September 21, 2017

in case you're interested

Here's a message I gave last Sunday at The Chapel in Seaside, in case you want to give it a listen: Click Here

Friday, September 15, 2017

solitude

Let him who cannot be alone beware of community.  He will only do harm to himself and to the community. ~Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Never underestimate the value of solitude in the spiritual life.  It is essential.  The first movement of a healthy spiritual life should always be towards God.  Without that movement, we run the risk of moving towards others out of need rather than out of love.  Under that scenario we begin to demand from our community that which only God can give, and that is never a good place to start. 

When we go first into solitude, and hear the voice of our God telling us that we are loved and cherished and delighted in, then we actually have something to offer those in our lives and in our world, rather than needing to extort or extract something from them.  If, however, we run to the world first, we will continue to seek our security, significance, and affirmation from the creation rather than the Creator, and it will be impossible for us to love rather than manipulate.

O God, help the first movement of my soul always be towards you.  Help me to run to the quiet, to the place where I can hear your voice and sense your presence.  That place where I can be filled with you, rather than seeking to be filled by that which is around me.  For only then will I be able to love the way you have called me to love.

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

beautiful

He has made everything beautiful in its time. (Ecclesiastes 3:11)

I don't know about you, but I have a difficult time just letting things be beautiful.  It seems like I am always trying to analyze, or explain, or turn  something into a message (or a blog post:), rather than simply enjoying the beauty of it.  If, indeed, God has made everything beautiful in its own time, why not just go with it?  Why not take what he has said for what it is, and simply embrace and enjoy the beauty of the thing (or person, or season, or event) that is before (or within) us?  Let it be beautiful.  Embrace the beauty.  Enjoy the beauty.  Let it wash over you and transform you--that's what beauty does.  That's who God is.

Monday, September 11, 2017

dwell

He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High will rest in the shadow of the Almighty.  I will say of the Lord, “He is my refuge and my fortress, my God in whom I trust.”  (Psalm 91:1-2)



Apparently one leads to the other.  If I dwell in the shelter of the Most High, I will rest in the shadow of the Almighty.  Thus, if my soul is not at rest, it is because I am dwelling in something other than the shelter of the Most High.  I may be dwelling in my fear and anxiety.  I may be dwelling in my need for achievement and affirmation.  I may be dwelling in my desire for security and control.  But I am certainly not dwelling in the shelter of the Most High.

The shelter of the Most High is a place of safety and security, even in the midst of the chaos and craziness of this life.  It is a haven, a refuge, a fortress.  It is a place that allows me safe harbor from the storms that continually batter me, from the inner voices and enemies that constantly attack me.  It offers me space—space to breathe, space to be.  Therefore, I do not have to worry about defending myself, or making a name for myself, for the Almighty is there to guard and protect me.  He is there to deliver me and to honor me.  Thus, I can rest in him.


Lord God Almighty, give me peace and confidence in your strong and tender care, that my soul may find rest in you.  Amen.

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

least

An argument started among the  disciples as to which of them would be the greatest.  Jesus, knowing their thoughts, took a little child and had him stand beside him.  Then he said to them, "Whoever welcomes this little child in my name welcomes me; and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me.  For he who is least among you all--he is greatest. (Luke 9:46-48) 


I spend way too much time and energy trying to be awesome, when what Jesus really wants from me is to make myself least.  That is because he knows that, as odd as it sounds, becoming least is the pathway to life and freedom.  Becoming least is a beautiful thing because it sets us free from the need to be awesome.  When we finally stop trying so hard to become great, we can finally become all that God desires us to be, all that he created us to be.  There is no pressure to be anything other than our beautiful, God-breathed selves.  And, thus, there is the freedom to stop taking up all of the space. 
    
Good leaders know this all too well.  The best leaders never take up all of the space, they actually make space for God, and then for others, in a way brings about life and love and genuine community.  True leadership—which is exactly what Jesus was trying to teach his disciples—is about equipping, empowering, and enabling, not doing it all ourselves.  It calls those around us to become the very best version of themselves.


Give me the courage today, Lord Jesus, to make myself least, that you would be made great.  Amen.

Saturday, September 2, 2017

many will see

I waited patiently on the Lord; he turned to me and heard my cry.  He lifted me out of the slimy pit, out of the mud and mire; he set my feet on a rock and gave me a firm place to stand.  He put a new song in my mouth; a hymn of praise to our God.  Many will see and fear and put their trust in the Lord.  Blessed is the man who makes the Lord his trust. . ." (Psalm 40:1-4)


It is so easy for us to lose perspective at times.  Trouble or hardship hits and we are immediately swept away, caught up in our own needs, doubts, and concerns, losing track of the bigger picture.  In such times, life becomes all about us and, as a result, we are cast to the bottom of the slimy pit of doubt and self-pity.  Wallowing in the mud and mire of our own desperation and need.

I don't know why we should be so surprised when trouble comes our way, it is a regular part of life in this fallen world.  In fact, it comes so often that it should probably be more of a surprise to us when it doesn't come.  But, nonetheless, somehow it still catches us off guard and throws us into disorder, which we always assume is a bad thing.  But it is not.  In fact, disorder is now a part of the Divine order: birth is followed by death, which is followed by rebirth.  Order gives way to disorder, which then leads to a new order.  You see it all over the pages of scripture, particularly in Psalm 40.  Life is going along fine, then, one day, we find ourselves at the bottom of the slimy pit.  The next thing we know, God turns toward us, lifts us up, and sets our feet back on a rock.  Not only this, but he then proceeds to put a new song in our mouths.  A hymn of praise to our God, no less.

That is where we begin to get a glimpse of a bigger picture.  Many will see.  The whole thing was not about us at all, it was about him.  Sure God cares deeply for us and wants us to know his love and his care and his provision, but it does not stop there.  In fact, it only begins there.  Because after he has heard and lifted and set us, after he has put a new song in our mouths, those who watched the whole thing unfold, those who have heard the beauty of that new song, will see and fear and put their trust in the Lord.  The whole thing was about him, not just about us.  It was meant to help tell the story of his redemptive power and unfailing love.  Our trust is meant to breed trust in those who witness it.  There is a Divine order, even in the disorder.  There is an intent of God behind the content of life.  God desires a new song, not only for us, but for those that hear the song he has put in our mouths.  So we had best pay careful attention to the song he has given us, and be grateful for it.  But, most importantly, we must keep on singing it.  For when we do, many will see.

Monday, August 28, 2017

must decrease

The bride belongs to the bridegroom.  The friend who attends the bridegroom waits and listens for him, and is full of joy when he hears the bridegroom's voice.  That joy is mine, and it is now complete.  He must increase and I must decrease. ~John 3:29-30


There is just no way around it.  As much as I might like to increase, life with God is about me decreasing.  Just ask John the Baptist, he had it all in perspective.  Although I'm sure it was hard, even for him, to keep it that way.  The rule of the Kingdom is simple: I must decrease.  It is not an option, it is a must.  Otherwise I will just be in his way. 

My desire for attention must decrease, that I might cast all the attention on him.  My desire to be great must decrease, that I might make him great.  My desire for affirmation and acclaim must decrease, that he might be affirmed and lifted up above all.  My desire to have impact must decrease, that he might actually have eternal impact.  He is the one who is essential here, not me.  

You see, the bride does not belong to me (any more than she belonged to John), she belongs to Jesus. He is her groom.  He is her lover.  Her desire must be for Him, not for me.  I am just the one waiting and watching and listening for him to come, so that I might help join their hands in an eternal embrace of love.  And then I must step aside.

Forgive me, O God, when I get this backwards.  Help me to work to make you great, not myself.  Teach me what it means that I must decrease, for it is so against my nature.  Amen.

Saturday, August 26, 2017

reorientation

I waited patiently on the Lord; he turned to me and heard my cry.  He lifted me out of the slimy pit, out of the mud and mire; he set my feet on a rock and gave me a firm place to stand.  He put a new song in my mouth; a hymn of praise to our God.  Many will see and fear and put their trust in the Lord.  Blessed is the man who makes the Lord his trust. . ." (Psalm 40:1-4)


It is a pattern woven into the story of faith: order, disorder, reorder; birth, death, rebirth; orientation, disorientation, reorientation.  It happens over and over and over again.  It makes me wonder, when seasons of chaos or disorder come, how in the world we can possibly be surprised.  But we are.  The life of faith is seasonal, but there is a reliable pattern to it all.  After all, he has made everything beautiful in its own time. (Ecclesiastes 2:11)  And that truth, and this pattern, should help us to be able to navigate the seasons of chaos whenever they come.

At the core of all chaos lies the question, "Can God really be trusted?"  What do I really believe about him?  Is he always at work (the way Jesus claims in John 5:17) and is his heart for me good?  If so, then even in the midst of the anxiety and uncertainty of disorder and chaos, I can rely on the fact that he us ultimately going to bring about something new and beautiful, both within and around me, that could come about in no other way.  So even when I find myself at the bottom of the slimy pit (which is often), wallowing in the mud and mire, I can rest assured that ultimately he will come.  He will come, he will lift me up, he will set my feet on a rock, and he will put a new and beautiful song in my mouth.  Therefore, I can actually wait patiently on him.  That is the hope that life with God offers.  That is the hope of this pattern of life and faith: disorder is always followed by reorder, death by rebirth, disorientation by reorientation.  Something new and beautiful is being born that I cannot yet see.  Thanks be to God.

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

a new dance

Where can I go from your Spirit?
    Where can I flee from your presence?
If I go up to the heavens, you are there;
    if I make my bed in the depths, you are there.
If I rise on the wings of the dawn,
    if I settle on the far side of the sea,
   even there your hand will guide me,
    your right hand will hold me fast.
If I say, “Surely the darkness will hide me
    and the light become night around me,”

    even the darkness will not be dark to you;
    the night will shine like the day,
    for darkness is as light to you.

    (Psalm 139:7-12)


There is nowhere that God is not.  Therefore, when we do not have a sense of his presence, we cannot just assume that he is absent.  Actually, quite the opposite is true.  For even when we cannot perceive him, he is still there--in the heavens, in the depths, on the far side of the sea, and even in the deepest darkness.  We just need to truly believe that.

Abraham Joshua Heschel once wrote: "What is decisive is not the mystic experience of our being close to him; decisive is not our 'feeling' but our 'certainty' of his being close to us--although even his presence is veiled and beyond the scope of our emotion.  Decisive is not our emotion but our 'conviction.'"  God is always present, but sometimes we simply cannot perceive him.  Our perception, however, is not reality.

Most of the time when we go through periods where we cannot sense God's presence, it is because God is inviting us to experience him in a brand new way.  The season of disorientation (in this case, the absence of God's perceived presence) has as it's goal a reorientation, a new way of being and seeing.  Unfortunately, in times such as these we usually try to cling to some old and familiar way of relating to God rather than opening ourselves up to the new and the unknown.  The problem is that this old way of relating--this old orientation--is dead and gone, and a new one must be arrived at. 

It is like God is inviting us to learn to dance with him in a new and different way, but we keep reverting back to our old and familiar ways rather than being open and willing to learn a new dance.  This often leads to frustration, and even feelings of abandonment.  But nothing could be further from the truth.  God has not abandoned us.  In fact, he is actually trying to lead us into new levels of intimacy with him that we have only dreamt about.  But in order to do this, we must learn to let go of the old.  We must be willing to trust in him and to follow his lead the best way we know how.

Monday, August 21, 2017

inherit

On one occasion an expert in the law stood up to test Jesus, "Teacher," he asked, "what must I do to inherit eternal life?"
     "What is written in the Law?" He replied, "How do you read it?"
     He Answered, "Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and love your neighbor as yourself."
     "You have answered correctly," Jesus replied.  "Do this and you will live." (Luke 10:25-28)


Is it just me, or does it sound a bit ridiculous to ask what you need to do in order to inherit something--be it eternal life or anything else?  The whole idea of inheriting, as I understand it, involves who you are rather than what you do.  You inherit something because it is given to you, based on who you are.  A child inherits what is left to him by his parents, simply because he is their child.  So the question itself seems a bit misguided.  Eternal life is something we are given, not something we earn or achieve.  And it is given because we are children of God.  The only doing involved comes from the fact that those who are really God's children will resemble their Father.  Thus, they act like what they already are--his very own.  God's children, because God is love, will love.  They will love him, and therefore love others.  It is simply who they are.  Now obviously loving God and others involves a lot of doing, but the doing is something that flows out of their being.  We cannot truly love people with the love of God if it is not part of who we are.  That's where the expert in the law was missing the boat.  He was too in love with himself, his position, and his own observations, to be genuinely in love with God, and it showed.  Once we are captured by the love of God--seized by the power of his great affection--everything else will flow out of that.  It is really not all that complicated.

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

voices

Listen, listen to me, and eat what is good, and you will delight in the richest of fare.  Give ear and come to me; hear me, that your soul may live. (Isaiah 55:2-3)


I am full of voices.  So full in fact that it is often hard to discern one voice from another.  The voices of my anxieties, insecurities, and fears are loud and demand constant attention.  And to be honest, when I listen to them they completely drain and deplete my soul.
    
God’s voice, on the other hand, is quiet and soft and non-intrusive.  It, by design, can only be heard when my soul is still and silent and at rest.  Which can make hearing it a bit of a challenge.  But when I am finally at a place, and in a space, where I can come to stillness and hear his voice, it has the direct opposite effect on my soul.  God’s voice produces life within me, and peace.  It nourishes and nurtures, it guides and directs, it creates joy and delight.
    
My challenge, then, is to listen, listen to him and not allow the more obvious voices to overwhelm and control me.  My job is to give ear, come to him, and hear.  It is a process that will not just happen on its own.  It will not just fall on my head.  It means that I must be intentional.  I must make time and space to quiet all of the voices that negate life, and to listen the still, soft voice of God that nourishes and creates it.  The only question is: “How will I do that today?”

Saturday, August 12, 2017

the slimy pit

I waited patiently for the Lord; he turned to me and heard my cry.  He lifted me out of the slimy pit, out of the mud and mire; he set my feet on a rock and gave me a firm place to stand.  He put a new song in my mouth, a hymn of praise to our God.  Many will see and fear and put their trust in the Lord. (Psalm 40:1-3)



This life is absolutely full of slimy pits.  And it seems like I fall into the same ones over and over again.  I will be going along, living my life, minding my own business, and then suddenly something happens—a critical remark, a biting comment, a feeling of inadequacy, a disappointment, a failure, an opinion that is not valued or listened to, fear, anxiety, Insecurity, you name it—and there I am, at the bottom of the pit, stuck in the mud and mire once again.  It happens so fast at times that it can make your head spin. 

That’s when the wallowing begins.  The inner dialogue turns toward attack, defense, or self-contempt, and deeper and deeper into the mud and mire I go.  When am I ever going to learn where these pits are and how to avoid them?  And when am I ever going to learn that once I have fallen into one of them, I cannot get myself out if it?  I must turn to God, the God who turns to me.  I must allow the words of this ancient prayer to become my own.  Only God can lift me out.  Only God can set me on a rock.  Only God can give me a firm place to stand.  Only God can put a new song in my mouth.  Only he can replace those old, dysfunctional ways of being and seeing with new and beautiful ones.  Only he can give me hope that one day the slimy pit will not be my constant reality.  May that day be today!  Lord, have mercy.  Christ, have mercy.  Lord, have mercy.

Monday, August 7, 2017

mess

"Confirm me, Lord, by the grace of the Holy Spirit, and give me grace to be strong inwardly in soul and to cast out from it all unprofitable business of the world and of the flesh, that it may not be led by unstable desires of earthly things. . . .
     Therefore, O Lord, give me true heavenly wisdom, that I may learn to seek you and to find you, and above all things to love you, and to understand and know all other things as they are, after the direction of your wisdom, and not otherwise." ~Thomas à Kempis


Oh to have the grace to be strong inwardly in my soul, and to be led not by the unstable desires of my flesh; what a joy that would be.  Instead, it is my constant battle.  In fact, the older I get, the more I realize what a mess I really am.  In my younger days I had a much higher opinion of myself.  Funny how time has a tendency to reveal the truth about things.  With age comes wisdom (not that I have much of that, wisdom I mean).  Wisdom to see things as they are, not through the world's eyes but through God's.  In my thirties, I had a hard time truly believing the words of the ancient prayer: "Apart from you I have no good thing." (Psalm 16:2).  I was full of myself. I thought I had a lot to offer this poor old world.  But sitting in my place of prayer this morning, at 57, I have no trouble believing the words of Psalm 16:2 at all.  Apart from God I am a total and complete mess.  But I think that realization is a really good thing.  It is that realization that causes me to recognize my great need for God.  It is that realization that leads me to seek him. And seeking him is what this life is all about.  Thanks be to God!

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

grumbling

And Moses said, “When the Lord gives you in the evening meat to eat and in the morning bread to the full, because the Lord has heard your grumbling that you grumble against him—what are we? Your grumbling is not against us but against the Lord.” (Exodus 16:8)


Hello, my name is Jim and I am a grumbler.  It is sad to admit, but it is true.  I grumble a lot.  I murmur under my breath (and even out loud at times) and complain in my heart pretty regularly about what is going on with the people and the circumstances around me.  It is not a pretty sight and is definitely not something I am proud of.  Yet, when I read this passage in Exodus 16 my disgust with the incessant nature of my complaint and criticism was taken to a whole different level.  For this scripture reveals the fact that when I grumble, ultimately my grumbling is not against those around me, but against God.

What exactly is grumbling anyway, and where does it come from?  The definition of the word grumble is to murmur or mutter in discontent; to complain sullenly.  The Hebrew word is luwn, which means to be obstinate.  It conveys the idea of an attitude of complaint that one dwells and persists (or even abides) in.  Grumbling, therefore, is not just an isolated incident, it is a spirit and an attitude that cause a certain way of being.  It is one part pride and one part discontent, with a heavy dose of selfishness sprinkled in.  Grumbling occurs at the odd intersection of arrogance and insecurity.  It criticizes and tears down in an effort to convince ourselves that if we were in charge things would be much different, much better.  At its core, grumbling involves a heart of distrust.  Grumbling is a subtle, and not so subtle, way of saying to God, "I don't trust you, I trust me"  Therefore, it is toxic to the soul.  Grumbling dries up the life of the Spirit within us, producing dark sadness, gloom, grumpiness, and discontent in our souls; the total opposite of the way God created us to live.  And unfortunately it is a difficult addiction to break.

That is why we must turn to God regularly in prayer (see Psalm 32), acknowledge the state of our hearts, admit the ways we have fallen short of his ideal, and ask him to forgive us and restore a right spirit within us.  Only God can detox our souls from the spirit of grumbling that has taken up residence deep within us.  Only God can uproot this spirit of complaint and criticism and discontent, and fill us with the Spirit of joy and gladness and gratitude instead.  Then we, like King David, can pray, "Rejoice in the Lord and be glad, you righteous; sing, all you who are upright in heart!" (Psalm 32:11)  For the Lord our God has been so very good to us.   

Lord, forgive me for my grumbling spirit.  I acknowledge it to you, confess it, and ask for your forgiveness and your cleansing.  I grumble a lot and I am sorry for that.  Please forgive me.  Replace my grumbling with your Spirit of joy and gladness and gratitude.  Amen.

Monday, July 31, 2017

earnestly i seek you

O God, you are my God, earnestly I seek you. ~Psalm 63:1



O God, you are my God, earnestly I seek you.  And therein lies the problem.  The truth is that we might seek God on occasion, and we may even seek him with some regularity.  But the real question is, are we seeking him earnestly?  And what does that even mean?
    
The word used here in Psalm 63:1 is shachar, which literally means at dawn, or early.  It gives us the definite impression that David is calling himself, as well as each of us, to seek God before everything else, to seek him first.  God is not to be one of many things, or people, that vie for our attention and our affection; he is to be the first thing.  And everyone and everything else must fall in line behind him.
    
The question, then, that we all must answer is: Do we seek God first?  Do we seek him before all else?  Do we seek him before our own comfort and convenience?  Do we seek him before our own plans and agendas?  Do we seek him before our friends, families, and loved ones?  Do we seek him before all of the other demands and expectations that are placed upon us on a daily basis?  What are we earnestly seeking in our lives?  What is first? 
    
The truth is that most of us want God, and life with God, but we lack the will and the courage to make him the first priority in our lives.  Oh, we might say that he is first, but the way we live our lives would seem to contradict that.  In the words of Dallas Willard: “The general human failing is to want what is right and important, but at the same time not commit to the kind of life that will produce the action we know to be right and the condition we want to enjoy.”
    
I think that’s why the words of this ancient prayer are so important.  They encourage us to constantly examine our lives, and to regularly recommit to a life (not just a desire) that seeks God first, above and before all else. 

O God, give us the grace and the courage and the strength to seek you earnestly this day. 

Thursday, July 27, 2017

always before me

“I have set the Lord always before me.  Because he is at my right hand, I will not be shaken.”  ~Psalm 16:8


What extraordinary words!  King David boils the entire spiritual life down to one phrase.  If somehow we could learn to set the Lord always before us, life would be so much easier.  Not easier in the sense that nothing bad would ever happen to us, but easier in the sense that God’s strong and loving presence would be with us whatever the circumstance.  Centuries later, Brother Lawrence would call this “practicing the presence of God.”  It is both a perspective and a practice.  It is a way of living life in which we are always conscious of the presence of God within and around us.  Everything that happens to us is seen and interpreted through those lenses, whether we are in the midst of the dark night, or reveling in the abundance of this life, or simply washing the dishes.  When we set the Lord always before us, all will be well.  When we are fully aware of God’s presence, at all times and in all circumstances, we will not be shaken.  May this very phrase serve as our prayer and our companion this day, so that we too may set the Lord always before us.

Sunday, July 23, 2017

why wait


Make me to know your ways, O Lord; teach me your paths.  Lead me in your truth and teach me, for you are the God of my salvation; for you I wait all day long. (Psalm 25:4-5, ESV)


It is difficult, at times, to discern God’s voice from the many voices around and within us that are constantly clamoring for our attention and attempting to determine our direction.  It’s quite maddening, and can be terribly confusing unless we take the advice of the psalmist and wait patiently for the voice of the Lord to rise above the din of all the other voices that continually assault us. 
    
But waiting patiently is no easy matter.  It will cost us significantly.  Waiting for the Lord takes time.  Listening for God’s voice takes space.  It requires silence and solitude.  It means that we must slow down, disconnect, and disengage from all of the people and the things that fill our lives and our hearts with noise and clamor and endless compulsion.  It seems like everyone we meet loves us and has a great plan for our lives, and will gladly tell us exactly what that is if we are willing to give them our time and attention.  But no one else can tell us who we are supposed to be and what we are supposed to do except the One who made us.  It is his voice alone that must determine these things.  And unless we listen for his voice we will never know exactly what they are.  Unless we are willing to invest the time and attention necessary to truly hear his still, small voice, we are likely to be blown around by whim and opinion and circumstance.
  
That’s where the words of this ancient prayer offer us help.  They ask God to be the one to determine the way and the path.  For he alone knows the truth, and will gladly tell it to us if we are willing to listen—and wait.

Saturday, July 22, 2017

wait

Be still and wait patiently for the Lord. . .(Psalm 37:7)


     I call to you,  Lord, from  my quiet darkness.  Show me your mercy and love.  Let me see your face, hear your voice, touch the hem of your cloak.  I want to love you, be with you, speak to you and simply stand in your presence.  But I cannot make that happen.  Pressing my eyes against my hands is not praying, and reading about your presence is not living in it.
     But there is that moment in which you will come to me, as you did to your fearful disciples, and say, "Do not be afraid; it is I."  Let that moment come soon, O Lord.  And if you want to delay it, then make me patient.  Amen. (A Cry for Mercy by Henri J. M. Nouwen)

     God comes like the sun in the morning--when it is time.
     We must assume an attitude of waiting, accepting the fact that we are creatures and not creator.
     We must do this because it is not our right to do anything else: the initiative is God's, not ours.  We are able to initiate nothing; we are able only to accept.
     If God does not call, no calling takes place.  If God does not come, there is no history!  History is the coming of God to us, and the way in which we reply.
     Only God created the heavens and the earth; only God can create history.  We carry it out through our response, but the inspiration, the design, and the strength to carry it out come from him.
     In short, he is what creates, and we creatures are in an act of becoming. (The God Who Comes by Carlo Carretto)


See how the farmer waits for the  land to yield its valuable crop and how patient he is for the autumn and spring rains.  You too, be patient and stand firm, because the Lord's coming is near. (James 5:7-8)


Apparently waiting plays a significant role in our lives with God.  Unfortunately, we are not good at it.  We like to charge ahead.  We like to make things happen.  The problem is that the things that we can make happen are probably not the things God wants to have happen.  So even when it is our desire to help God (as if he needed it), we, all too often, actually get in his way if we are not waiting patiently for him to tell us and to show us what he desires.  Waiting, it seems, must always precede acting.  Otherwise we are merely acting on our own behalf, rather than God's.

O Lord our God, be the initiator this day, and give us the grace and the courage to respond.  Amen. 

Thursday, July 13, 2017

refuge

"Keep me safe, my God, for in you I take refuge." ~Psalm 16:1


I've been praying the psalms with a group of friends for the past several months and it has been such a joy and delight!  One thing I have noticed during that time is how often these prayers refer to God as our refuge.  It is a funny thing to pray on those days when needing a refuge is the furthest thing from my mind.  Those are the days, I suppose, when I must remind myself that the prayers I lift to the Lord Most High do not always have to be about me.  Those are the days when I must realize that the community I pray these prayers for and with hold many people within them who are in desperate need of such a refuge.  Those are the days when I pray for them, my turn will come soon enough.

What does it mean that God is our refuge anyway?  The word refuge in the Hebrew is chacah.  It means to flee for protection.  It is used 25 times in the book of Psalms alone, usually translated either refuge or trust.  It conveys the image of God as our safe place.  Within the warmth and protection of his loving and powerful embrace we can be fully at home and fully at peace, regardless of the circumstances.  God is the one to whom we can flee and find safety.  Oh, maybe not safety in the sense that no harm will ever befall us, but safety in the sense that, whatever comes, he is the one in whom we can trust and rest secure.  He loves us deeply and is strong enough to shelter us from and sustain us in even the direst of circumstances.

So the psalms are an invitation to step inside the fullness and the beauty that this image has to offer.  Therefore, call upon the Lord your God to be your refuge, whatever that may mean today.  And if that image doesn't seem to translate into your life at the moment, pray it anyway, I'm sure it does for someone that you know and love.


"Taste and see that the Lord is good, blessed is the man who takes refuge in him." ~Psalm 34:8

Thursday, July 6, 2017

dream

When the Lord brought back the captives to Zion, we were like men who dreamed.  Our mouths were filled with laughter, our tongues with songs of joy.  Then it was said among the nations, “The Lord has done great things for them.”  The Lord has done great things for us, and we are filled with joy.  (Psalm 126:1-3, NIV)


I don’t dream enough.  I’d like to, I really would.  But somehow I get so busy managing and controlling and manipulating and surviving and WORRYING that I just forget.  And that is really sad.  It is sad because dreams are the things that life is made of.  Dreaming is what gives breath and wind, energy and vitality to this life we live in Christ.  Dreams put a spring in our step and joy in our hearts.  They focus us on possibilities and opportunities, rather than hardships and struggles.  They fill our mouths with laughter and our souls with hope and joyful expectation.  They make us live our lives on tiptoe. 

     Our dreams—or more correctly, God’s dreams in us—are so vital to our souls.  They are the things that nourish and enliven us.  They are the things that give fuel and energy to our prayers.  The dreams that God dreams in us and for us are intended to give our lives direction and vision and purpose.  But, unfortunately, we are often led by our fears, insecurities and anxieties instead.

     What are your dreams these days?  Sit down and spend some time thinking and praying about that.  Ask God to dream his dreams in you.  Ask him to show you what his deepest dreams are for you.  Then listen for his response.  Write it down.  Cherish it.  Order your life according to what his dreams are for you.  You won’t regret it.


Lord Jesus, help me to be led this day by my dreams instead of my fears.  Show me what your dreams are for me, and help me to be led by them.  Amen.

Saturday, July 1, 2017

be careful

I feel compelled.  And it is hard to know exactly what I mean when I say that.  It is difficult to tell where it is really coming from.  Is it God?  Or is it merely my own anxieties and insecurities?  Or some strange combination of the two (which is my best guess)?  Whatever the case, whatever the reason for the compulsion I feel to write, I'm going to venture on.  After all, isn't that what this blog is for, to write about what is stirring within me at any given moment.  So, here goes.

There has been (and continues to be) an enormous amount of conversation recently, in my little corner of the world anyway, about the Enneagram.  The Enneagram is a nine sided figure used in an ancient personality typing system that is designed to analyze and represent the spectrum of possible personality types.  It is the modern synthesis of  a number of different ancient traditions, but was put into a system of thought in the late 1960's and early 1970's by a man named Oscar Ichazo.  Since that time it has been used mainly by spiritual directors as a tool to help people understand the dynamics of their inner lives.  And an incredibly valuable tool at that!

The problem with it, as with any tool, is that it can be misused.  A scalpel in the hands of someone who is skilled and trained in the art of using it is a priceless treasure.  But in the hands of a novice it can be the cause of great harm.  So it is with the Enneagram.  In the hands of someone wise and discerning, and skilled in the art of directing souls, it can be an enormous aid in the process of helping people understand their inner patterns and landscape.  The problem comes when those of us who aren't particularly skilled or discerning in that area begin to use it on ourselves and those in our lives and world.  We read a book or a blog and are so captured by what we have read (and rightly so) that we suddenly become an expert.  It is almost like reading something about surgery and beginning  to think to ourselves: "Here's what a scalpel is and how it works; and this is where the major organs are, so let's cut each other open and see how it goes."  Discernment is a funny thing; we all think we have far more of it than we really do.  In fact, from my experience, those who think they are the most discerning are probably the ones you want to stay away from.  While those who feel like they are the least discerning are the ones that we need to gravitate toward.  For from the gift of true discernment comes true humility.  Those who really know, think that they do not know anything.  That is wisdom.

Does that mean that we should not read these books or have these conversations about the Enneagram and the wisdom it teaches us?  Not at all.  We just  need to be careful.  Here are a few things to keep in mind. 

First, I have noticed that the Enneagram is enormously helpful in aiding the process of recognizing our patterns and ways of being that may have gone unnoticed or unexplained for years.  The problem is that after the first "Aha" that the Enneagram produces, and the conversations associated with that, we can actually proceed in such a way that it begins to stifle and cut off conversation, reflection, and prayer, rather than encourage it.  The reason is that we stop listening, to ourselves and each other, as our minds immediately run ahead to whatever number on the diagram that most closely describes them.  Instead of listening, we begin to label them and box them in.  We make assumptions rather than trying to discover.  We form opinions rather asking open ended questions.  In that case, the Enneagram can become constrictive rather than expansive.  Whenever you hear (or say) the words "That's because I'm a ________" or "That's just because you are a ________," stop yourself right there.  You are reducing yourself, or the person in front of you, from an endless mystery to a number on a diagram.  It is easy to fall into the trap of dismissing rather than engaging. And it can close us off to each other rather than opening us up.

Also, we need to be really careful when we are using the Enneagram on ourselves.  It is easy to fall into the "that's just how I am" mindset; which can either offer us an excuse for our behavior or can make us feel helpless and trapped inside it.  Explaining and excusing are not the intent of the Enneagram.  The ultimate intent is understanding and transformation, becoming all that we were created to be.  To recognize and understand our unredeemed patterns and habits--those things, events, and people that make us the worst version of ourselves-- and why they occur, in order that we might move toward the redemption and freedom of Christ--the best version of ourselves--through the act of repentance.  That is what spiritual formation is all about.

Finally, always remember that the Enneagram is not, and was never intended to be, an end in itself.  It is only meant to be a tool and a companion.  The Word and the Spirit are still our primary and most reliable guides.  If your studies and conversations about the Enneagram are not moving you regularly  toward the scriptures, where you are constantly being reminded of the truth, beware.  It is far too easy for us to be deceived by the false narratives that live within us and move us toward their own ends.  Remember Jeremiah's admonition: "The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure, who can understand it?" (Jer. 17:9)  It is so easy for me, if I am not regularly in God's word, to be led astray.  It is easy to define myself by what I want to be, or how I want to be perceived, rather than who I really am.  And this can be incredibly subtle.  I know that there is as much "want to be an artist" living in me as there is actual evidence that that is who I really am, but I still choose to define myself in that way.  So we must be careful.  Ultimately this whole spiritual life is not about us anyway, it is about God.  It is hard to remember that when we get swept up in conversations about the Enneagram.  Thus, the main question is not so much "What number am I?" as it is, "Am I moving toward love?"

So I guess all I'm really trying to say is: Be careful.  You are far more beautiful and wonderful and mysterious and unique and complex than any number on any chart could possibly do justice to.  And so are the people around you.  Don't reduce them to a number or a type.  Don't finish their sentences for them.  Don't tell them what their story is, but listen deeply to it with the ears of your heart, without preconceived notions.  Make sure you don't pigeonhole them, but help to uncover and reveal the fathomless mystery of who they really are.  They deserve that.  And so do you.  Have real conversations: discuss, reflect, pray, love.  Don't analyze, don't explain, and don't fix.  Be open to God's Spirit within you and among you.  That's what this life with and in Christ is all about.

There, I feel better now.

"Show me your ways, O Lord, teach me your paths; guide me in your truth and teach me, for you are God my Savior, and my hope is in you all day long." ~Psalm 25:4-5

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

marriage

     Wives, understand and support your husbands in ways that show your support for Christ. The husband provides leadership to his wife the way Christ does to his church, not by domineering but by cherishing. So just as the church submits to Christ as he exercises such leadership, wives should likewise submit to their husbands.
     Husbands, go all out in your love for your wives, exactly as Christ did for the church—a love marked by giving, not getting. Christ’s love makes the church whole. His words evoke her beauty. Everything he does and says is designed to bring the best out of her, dressing her in dazzling white silk, radiant with holiness. And that is how husbands ought to love their wives. They’re really doing themselves a favor—since they’re already “one” in marriage.
     No one abuses his own body, does he? No, he feeds and pampers it. That’s how Christ treats us, the church, since we are part of his body. And this is why a man leaves father and mother and cherishes his wife. No longer two, they become “one flesh.” This is a huge mystery, and I don’t pretend to understand it all. What is clearest to me is the way Christ treats the church. And this provides a good picture of how each husband is to treat his wife, loving himself in loving her, and how each wife is to honor her husband. (Ephesians 5:22-33, The Message)


A few of days ago my wife and I had the incredible privilege of attending a ten year anniversary ceremony for a couple of dear friends.  They got married when they were really young and at the time were unable to afford the wedding they had always dreamt about, so they decided to have it on their tenth anniversary.  And it was delightful!  It was delightful because of the setting and the intentionality and the friends and family who had gathered.  It was delightful because of the wonderful weather and the beautiful decorations and the great food.  But mostly, it was delightful because of this extraordinary couple.  Her friends and family describe her as a great daughter, a great sister, and a great friend.  Her husband describes her as his rock--an incredible wife and mother.  Her life revolves around investing herself in the lives of those she loves, especially her husband and their four beautiful children.  He is a professional athlete.  His friends and family describe him as an enormous man with an enormous heart-- kind-hearted, loving, and generous (both with his time and his resources).  He is known in his profession as a great teammate who is willing to do the dirty work; willing to do all of the difficult, unglamorous things that no one else really wants to do.  In a word, both of these dear friends could be described as selfless.

And because this ceremony took place ten years after they had originally gotten married, I think it led everyone there to reflect upon marriage in general, an upon our own marriages in particular.  I know it did me.  What makes a great marriage?  What makes a marriage that lasts?  And, even more, what makes a marriage that flourishes?  All of these questions, I believe, are addressed in the words above from the book of Ephesians.  The secret to a great marriage can be summed up in two words: strength and beauty.  Let me explain what I mean by that. 

A wise man once said that the deepest question of every man's heart is, "Do I have what it takes?" while the greatest question of every woman's heart is, "Am I beautiful enough to be pursued?"  Now I am not completely sure about what resides in the heart of a woman, but as far as I'm concerned, the deepest question of every man's heart is spot on.  Deep in the heart of every man is the desire to be capable, adequate, and strong.  Oh, not strong in a brutish, bullying sort of way, but strong in a way that allows those dearest to us to feel safe and protected and cared for.  It is a strength filled with lovingkindness and tender care. And deep in the heart of every woman lies the desire to be considered beautiful.  Not just beautiful in the physical sense, but beautiful deep down to the core of who she really is.  A beauty that draws people to want to know her and be in deep relationship with her. 


I think that's why Paul uses the word "honor" when speaking to the wives and "cherish" when speaking to the husbands.  Somehow when wives honor their husbands, they hold them in high regard.  They make something come alive in them that God breathed into them when he dreamt them into being.  They draw out their godly strength.  And somehow when a husband cherishes his wife, he makes something come to life in her that makes her the very best, God-breathed, version of herself.  When she is cherished, her true beauty is evoked from her. 

The bottom line is that marriage was intended to be a place where husband and wife make each other the very best version of themselves.  And somehow the oneness from which, and for which, marriage was designed, means that the two together are more than they could ever be on their own.  That is not meant to diminish or demean singleness in any way.  In fact, I believe singleness is a unique and beautiful calling (or season) as well.  For those who are single it is almost as if God were saying, "I want to be that for you right now.  I want to be that intimate one in your life."  But the whole idea behind marriage is that two separate people would become one in some wonderfully mysterious way.  That the sum of the whole (in Christ) would somehow be greater than the sum of the parts.  I know that I have found this to be true in my own marriage.  I am a much, much better man with Carol in my life than I could ever hope to be without her.  Her presence in my life makes me more and more who God intended for me to be.

The question is, how is this oneness in marriage achieved?  How do we live in union as husband and wife, rather than simply settling for living parallel lives?  I think the answer goes back to the weekend celebration we just had the pleasure of witnessing.  Oneness is achieved through selflessness.  Just ask the Trinity.  They live in joyful, loving union with one another, each honoring and cherishing and pointing toward and delighting in the other.  It is a Great Round Dance of Love that we are invited to take part in.  Oneness happens when we follow their lead.  Thus, oneness begins to take shape when we become more committed to the cares and needs and wants and desires of our spouse than we are to our own plans, demands, and agendas.  When both spouses are committed to giving themselves fully and completely to each other--no holding back--oneness is the byproduct.  Just ask Jesus, the part of the Trinity who came to show us what the heart of God is really like, and what it means to really love someone.  His love is our guide.  Each one of us is to love our spouse the way that Jesus has loved us.   When we do that we become, both corporately and individually, all that God designed us to be. 

Friday, June 23, 2017

a prayer for intimate knowing

penetrate me o god
and know me intimately
test me as precious metal
and deeply know
my many thoughts and fears
see if there is any idol within me
anything that grieves you
or brings sorrow to your heart
and lead me in the hidden way
the way that is far too big
for me to see
the way that can only be seen
with the eyes of the heart
the way of eternity
the way without beginning
and without end
the way to my truest home
in you

(from Psalm 139:23-24)

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

traps

Keep me free from the trap that is set for me, for you are my refuge.  Into your hands I commit my spirit; deliver me, Lord, my faithful God. (Psalm 31:4-5)




A few winters ago we had mice.  Not a fun experience.  And when you have mice, you set traps.  The good thing about mice is that once you do a little research (thank you Google and YouTube) you find out that mice are creatures of habit.  Two things are always true about mice.  First, since their eyesight is not very good, they always follow the exact same pathways, mostly using their sense of smell.  And second, they will always (100% of the time) take the bait.  They simply cannot, or will not, resist it.  So all you have to do to catch mice is to look for the evidence of their pathways and set a trap right in the middle of it.  Or, simply put some bait on a trap and wait for the magic to happen.

Traps are an interesting phenomenon.  The definition of the word trap is a contrivance, device, stratagem, trick, or the like used to catch people or animals unaware.  Thus, setting a trap involves intention, strategy, and cunning.  You set a trap in order to catch something, or trick someone.  And the reason the trap works is because it is either hidden, unrecognized, or baited.

In Psalm 31, David prays that God might help free him from the trap that is set for him.  Now maybe he is talking about a physical trap, and maybe he is talking about a spiritual trap.  Who knows?  Most likely, he talking about both.  Either way, it sounds like he had enough experience stepping into traps, and experiencing their effects, that he wanted to avoid them in the future if at all possible.  Which meant that he had to become proficient in three things: recognizing, avoiding, and resisting

I don't know about you, but I can totally relate to David.  I have a tendency to step into traps as well.  Which I suppose also means that I am not so different from a mouse.  I, too, have a tendency to travel familiar pathways.  I also have a difficult time not taking the bait whenever it is right in front of me.  My bait, however, is not cheese.  My bait tends to be affirmation, importance, significance, and esteem (there are many more to add to the list, but you get the point).  And when I am hungry for one of these things I go looking for it.  I sniff it out.  Therefore, it is not terribly difficult to set a trap for me.

It is a familiar scenario.  It usually starts with my insecurity welling up within me, which produces a need to be right and a hunger to be respected.  When that doesn't happen in the way I'd hoped, it often leads to frustration, anxiety, and even anger--making me the absolute worst possible version of myself.  It is a downward spiral from there.  And there you have it.  Boom!  The trap worked perfectly--once again.  I am such easy prey.

Maybe you experience the same thing.  Oh, it may not be insecurity.  It may, instead, be control or power or pleasure, or any number of other things that sets you in motion, but the result is the same.  You follow familiar pathways, or you go looking for places to satisfy your hunger, and then boom!  There you are--trapped.  Again!

So how do we battle this?  How do we keep from being trapped in the same old habits and patterns and dysfunction over and over again?  First of all, we need to be trained to recognize the traps that have been set in our paths.  This takes attentiveness, presence and prayer.  We must begin to walk with God in such a way that he is able to help us have eyes to see the reality of our situation.  After all, as David reminds us in Psalm 139:3, God is familiar with all our ways.  If we walk slowly and attentively with him through the course of our days (and our lives) he will teach us how to see the things that we normally miss.  He will help us to see the rope hiding beneath the leaves that is waiting to grab us by the ankles the minute we set foot in it.  Learning to live life with God, at his speed, will help us to recognize.

Next, we must learn to avoid the places where the traps are typically set.  This is not rocket science.  We are not mice.  If you step into a trap, one of the best ways not to do it again is to avoid putting yourself in that position.  It's the old "fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me" routine.  This is where it takes both wisdom and willingness.  We have to be wise in recognizing our patterns and their results.  And then we have to be willing to change those patterns.  Men, if it is impossible for you to be on your computer and not be led into sin, get rid of it.  If you continue to use it, you will repeat those damaging patterns--again and again.  Or if it is your phone, get rid of the smart phone, go old school.  The question is: "Are you willing to do whatever it takes to not fall into that trap over and over again?"  Will you do everything in your power to avoid it?  If it is a certain situation, or person, or circumstance that makes you become the worst version of yourself, you might want to reflect and pray about the dynamics of that relationship and change it somehow, lest you find the trap slamming shut on you again and again.

And finally, we must resist.  This one is a little tricky because we immediately begin to assume that our success or failure ultimately has to do with our own willpower.  If that were the case, we would all be in big, big trouble.  You will not conquer the biggest enemies of your spiritual life with sheer willpower.  You will be easy prey.  The tricky part is that resistance is not so much about being determined not to take the bait anymore.  It is, rather, about realizing that there is something much better, much richer, much more satisfying than the piddly little bait we normally take, and feeding on that (on Jesus) instead.  It is about being filled with something so much better that we will lose our appetite for the things of the world because of the depth and beauty and riches of the things of the Kingdom.  It is not about stopping up our ears and refusing to listen to the Siren Song (Ulysses), as much as it is about being captured by a more beautiful song altogether (Orpheus).  It is about letting go of the lesser affections because you have been seized by the power of the Great Affection.  It is really about falling in love. 

Unfortunately, even still, I have a tendency to not even think about the trap until after I have already stepped into it.  So I must continue to cultivate a more and more intimate life with God.  I must continue to live my life with God in such a way that I can learn to recognize, avoid, and resist the many traps that have been set for me.  Maybe constantly praying this prayer (Psalm 31:1-5) is a good place to start.



Saturday, June 17, 2017

check

Trust in the Lord and do good; dwell In the land and enjoy safe pasture.  Delight in the Lord and he will give you the desires of your heart.  Commit your way to the Lord; trust him and he will do this: He will make your righteousness shine like the dawn, the justice of your cause like the noonday sun.  Be still before the Lord and wait patiently for him; do not fret. . . ." (Psalm 37:3-7)


I am a list guy.  As much as I might try to deny it, it is true.  I like to make lists and I like, even more, to check things off.  I have even been known to write things on my list that I have already completed, just for the joy of checking them off.  I know, I know, it is a sickness.  I guess one of the reasons for this strange compulsion is that I have spent most of my life in one kind of vocational ministry or another, which is a life and a calling that seldom leads to being able to check things off a list.  Being involved in the lives of people isn't that neat and tidy.  It is often messy and is relentlessly ongoing.

Unfortunately, because of this obsession with lists, I can sometimes treat my spiritual life with the same type of attitude.  Read the scriptures.  Spend time with God.  Pray.  Check, check, and check.  Not very conducive to the life of God growing within me.

Who knows, maybe King David had the same problem.  But maybe he learned the wisdom of discerning what things actually need to be on the list and what things do not.  Take Psalm 37, for instance.  In verses 3-8 there is a "to do" list.  But it is not just any to do list; it is a list that gets right to the heart of what life with God is really all about.  Just look at the things David says to do: trust, do good, dwell, enjoy, delight, commit, trust (once again), be still, and wait patiently.  Now that's a list I can get excited about.  That is a list that is actually far more about being than it is about doing. 

And look at the one thing he says not to do--fret.  For fretting leads only to evil.  Fretting actually dries up the life of God within us.  It fills us so full of ourselves and our problems, worries and dilemmas that it leaves no room within us for the movement of God's Spirit.

So if you are looking for a little spark, a little guidance and direction in your life with God, why not take David's words to heart?  Allow the words of this ancient prayer to take up residence within you.  Allow them to teach you the movements and rhythms of God's grace.  That is what the Psalms do.  In the words of Eugene Peterson, "The psalms train us in the conversation with God that is prayer."

Check?  Check.