Thursday, August 31, 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, 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.

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

delight

Trust in the Lord and do good; dwell in the land and enjoy safe pasture.  Delight yourself in the Lord and he will give you the desires of your heart.  Commit your way to the Lord; trust in 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. . .it leads only to evil. (Psalm 37:3-8, NIV)




It is impossible to understate the importance of delight in the spiritual life.  Delight is the very lifeblood of our lives with God.  It is the thing that gives life and energy and vibrancy to our souls.  It is the end result of the activity of God’s Spirit within us.  God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit,” says Paul in Romans. (Rom. 5:5)  Delight is when God’s Spirit so captures our hearts with his great love and affection that it changes everything about us.  Thus, we come to delight in him as we recognize his deep delight in us, which fills us to overflowing so that his Divine Love spills out of us into the world around us.
    
The word delight (‘anag) is used in a couple of different ways in the Old Testament.  The literal translation is to be soft or delicate.  Thus, when we delight in God, we become soft to him.  We are pliable in his hands, open and vulnerable to his touch and his voice and his Spirit.  The other way the word delight is used in the scriptures is to be filled with deep gladness.  When we delight ourselves in the Lord, we find our deepest joy and gladness in who he is, and in his great affection for us.  This, in turn, breeds so many other great things in the life of faith: trust and rest and surrender to his will and his direction.  When we delight in our God, we recognize, and are convinced of, the depths of his heart for us, allowing us to truly trust in him.
     
In contrast (in Psalm 37), is the word fret.  The word fret is used a couple of different ways in the Old Testament as well.  To fret (charah) literally means to blaze up or grow hot.  Under this usage of the word, when we fret we get angry with God and become hardened to him, rather than soft.  The other way the word fret is used is to be filled with worry or doubt.  When we fret, we become consumed.  We allow worry or doubt to so fill us up that there is no room for God to do anything of value within us.
   
So how do we live in such a way, as to cultivate and nurture delight, while minimizing and weeding out fret?  Maybe a starting point would be to begin to immerse our hearts in the words of this ancient prayer.  To reflect on it and chew on it and meditate on it and pray it until it begins to take root within us.  Maybe by praying these words over and over, we might actually begin to do them; or, better yet, to become them.  Maybe by praying these very words we will become more convinced of his love and, thus, more able to delight in him.  It seems like a good place to start anyway.

Friday, June 9, 2017

blessed to bless

"We are chosen, blessed and broken so as to be given.  The fourth aspect of the life of the Beloved is to be given.  For me, personally, this means that it is only as people who are given that we can fully understand our being chosen, blessed and broken.  In the giving it becomes clear that we are chosen, blessed and broken not simply for our own sakes, but so that all we live finds its final significance in its being lived for others." (Life of the Beloved by Henri J. M. Nouwen)


You, yes you, are God's Beloved.  You are his masterpiece; his work of art.  You bring him deep joy and great delight.  You make his heart skip a beat every time he thinks of you--which is all the time.  You bring a smile to his face and a song to his lips.  Our God, the Father of Jesus, is very, very fond of you.

Now go forth into the world and speak words of life and love and blessing to everyone you come in contact with.

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

with jesus

“And they took note that these men had been with Jesus.” (Acts 4:13)  What a great line!  It is so hopeful.  I don’t know about you, but most days I feel about as ordinary and unschooled as they come.  I mean, these guys were fishermen for crying out loud!  And they were standing toe to toe with some of the most distinguished scholars and theologians of their day—and amazing them at that.  That is the hopeful part.  It isn’t what I know, or what I can do, that makes me useful to God and to his kingdom; it is simply being with Jesus.  That is not meant to belittle the value of education, but is meant to underscore the importance of devotion.  When I spend quality time with Jesus, he gives me everything I need.  That time with him is what gives me the inspiration and the strength and the power I need to have an impact on those around me, no matter who they are.  So before we run off to our books and our strategy meetings and our “to do” lists, let us first make time and space to simply be with Jesus.

Saturday, June 3, 2017

bless

Jim,

You are my beloved, on you my favor rests.  Until you really believe that, and are able to rest in that truth, you will never truly be able to bless, or love, others.  Listen to my voice of love and let it seep down into the deepest places of your heart and soul.  Allow it to take up residence within you.  For only then will you know my love, and only then will you be able to love people, and bless them, the way I long for you to.

Love, 
Abba

Thursday, June 1, 2017

four

what a mixed bag
this soul of mine
up one minute
down the next
high highs
and low lows

a hodgepodge
of differing emotions
diverse ways of being
conflicting conditions
existing simultaneously
a living paradox
an existential conundrum

how is it even possible
to be both broken and whole
needy and beloved
insecure and at peace
anxious and trusting
fearful and courageous
what a mess

how can my heart
simultaneously contain
such joy and angst
compassion and competition
grace and judgment
kindness and criticism
not to mention the
constant comparison

it is a perpetual wrestling
back and forth
to and fro
a tug o war
pulled one way
and then the other
but which one
will win

how can a soul
contain all of these
inconsistencies
how can two
such opposite
ways of being
coexist

and how is one
to reconcile
and integrate
the two
much less
be transformed

it is maddening
at times
being human

Monday, May 29, 2017

the divine dance

I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you.  May they also be in us, so that the world may believe that you sent me. (John 17:20-21)


Out of the overflow of Divine Love we were dreamt into being, in order that we might participate in the intimacy and affection of the Trinity.  In the words of Paul Marechal: "The Trinity is a round dance in which Love flames forth from one Person to the Other in a flow that never ceases.  The Father is One and his Dance is Three: Love flaming out of the Silence of the Secret One, and returning to Abba in one concurrent, timeless motion—in the embrace of the Spirit."  This is the life Jesus is praying for in and among us; a life of intimate union with God and with one another.  Why would we settle for anything less?  It is by seeing and tasting this life within and among us that the world will believe.  As we dance with God, and dance with each other, those around us will be drawn into this intimate, beautiful mystery.

Enable me today, O God, to join the Divine Dance of the Trinity.  Amen.

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

essential

As for man, his days are like grass;
     he flourishes like a flower of the field;
for the wind passes over it, and it is gone,
     and its place remembers it no more.
But the steadfast love of the Lord is from everlasting to
everlasting for those who fear him. . . (Psalm 103:15-17)


No matter how hard I try to deny it, I am not indispensable.  I might try to convince myself and my world otherwise, but the truth remains.  One day I will be gone, either from this job or this life, and those who are left will remember me for a while, but, in the end, I will be like a flower of the field.  I will be gone and my place will remember me no more.  That truth should not be a surprise to me.  I am pretty sure that my old office at the church has probably forgotten me three or four occupants ago, or even been turned into a classroom or a storage closet.  And the Young Life club at Powell High School that I invested almost ten years of my life building and guiding, has never missed a beat in my absence.  In fact, it continues on, going strong.  And I'm pretty sure the kids who come to club these days don't have any idea who I am or that I was once a part of what God was doing there.  And I think this realization is supposed to produce something really good in me.  King David certainly thought so.

Years ago I was finishing up a month-long program assignment at a Young Life camp in Colorado. At the end of our time together my Camp Director (who was a dear friend that knew me well) pulled me aside for my evaluation.  "You did such a great job." he said.  "The creativity and quality of your work were simply outstanding.  I do, however, have one observation.  It seemed like you felt that you had to be present at everything in order for it to go well.  I wonder if you trust God much more in your presence, than you do in your absence."  And he was absolutely right.  Somehow I had convinced myself that in order for God to really work, I had to be a part of it.  Who knows, maybe I was afraid it wouldn't go well if I was not around, and maybe I was even more afraid that it would.

The painful reality is that we tend to take ourselves, and our contributions to the work of God's kingdom, way more seriously than we probably should.  It is a grace and a gift that God chooses to use us for a time, and while are here (wherever here may be) God desires us to be fully engaged and invested.  And we are.  The problem comes when we begin to believe that we are somehow essential to God's long-term effectiveness in our own little corner of the world--and maybe in one way we are.  But in a much larger way, we are not.  We are only one tiny piece of a great big whole.  That is not to minimize our contributions, or our efforts in the direction of his kingdom, it is simply meant to remind us that God is the key component, not us.  God is the Eternal One, not us.  God is the focal point, not us.  And that is not meant to demean or diminish us, it is meant to set us free.

A couple of days ago I was reading an article in our local newspaper about one of the co-head coaches (the wife of a husband-wife duo) of the softball program at the University of Tennessee.  In the article, as she was describing why the softball program was so successful (currently the most successful program in the entire athletic department), she said, "I don't know how to say this, but neither of us need this.  We want to do this, but it's not like we have to do this.  I think that is what makes it so fun for us.  I think that is why I can do what I do now, and I don't get all crazy about it.  I want to win.  I love to win, and I am super competitive.  But it's not like if I don't win a championship I won't die happy.  I am out here every year trying, but it's really all about growing these young women.  That is what's important to me."  That is exactly what I'm talking about.  Living of lives in a healthy way is all about operating out of a place of desire, rather than a place of need. 

God wants our lives and our ministries to flow out of joyful desire, rather than needy dysfunction; out of the overflow of his love and affection, rather than the scarcity of our own need to be significant and to make an impact.  And somehow remembering that he is from everlasting to everlasting and we are like flowers of the field is meant to free us up to do just that.  For if we are driven by our own need, rather than by his immense love, things turn ugly really quick.  For it is not we who are essential, but him.  Only him.  Thanks be to God! 

Monday, May 22, 2017

goodness

goodness
hidden in a husk
disguised and unrecognizable
in the chaos of life
lurking far beneath
the surface of things
only come upon by trust
often seen only
by a backwards glance

the narrative of circumstance
tells us there is no such thing
yet deeper down
beneath the tears and the pain
an invitation is whispered
to believe a different story
in spite of our doubt
that goodness really exists

a voice of love and care
a deep and transforming magic
a counter-spell to all of
the lies and half truths
an invitation to peace
and to wholeness
offering hope that
goodness is real
and possible
and attainable
in this life
in spite of the pain

occupied

O Lord, my heart is not proud; my eyes are not raised too high; I do not occupy myself with this too great and too marvelous for me.  But I have calmed and quieted my soul , like a weaned child with its mother; like a weaned child is my soul within me.  O Israel, hope in the Lord from this time forth and forevermore. (Psalm 131:1-3)


I don't know about you, but all too often in this crazy and chaotic life I find myself exactly like King David--occupied.  And I do not mean that as a compliment.  The definition of occupied is to take or fill up (space, time, etc.).  Thus, to be occupied is to be full.  And, for me anyway, that is not a good thing.  It is what I am full of that is the problem. 

I long to be fully occupied by God, but all too often I am occupied by so many other things.  I am occupied by my needs and my insecurities and my fears.  I am occupied by my worries and my cares and my anxieties.   And, at the same time, in an incredibly odd way, I am also occupied by my pride and my arrogance, by my opinions and my agendas.  How in the world is that even possible?  Simply stated, I am full.  Full of things that take up space in my inner landscape.  Full of things that do not produce life and love in me.  Full of things that actually make me the worst version of myself, instead of the best. 

So full, in fact, that there is no room for anything else.  There is no room in me for God to move and to work and to act.  And if there is one thing I've learned through the years about the spiritual life, it's that it must have room in order to grow.  The soul needs open space and time, room for the winds of God to ignite the fires of the Spirit in a way that helps me burn with the passion and love for him for which I was created.

Thus, room must be made.  And how can room be made without the process of emptying taking place?  In order for the Spirit to have free reign in my soul, I must begin to empty myself of all that is not God.  I must let go of the chaos and the clutter and the sin and the dysfunction that fill my life.  I must spend time in reflection and confession and release, in order that there might be room created in me to receive the things that God most wants to give: joy and peace and love.  Please pray that I will have the courage and the strength to do so.


O great God of highest heaven, occupy my lowly heart.  Own it all and reign supreme, conquer every rebel power.  Let no vice or sin remain that resists your holy war.  You have loved and purchased me, make me yours forevermore. (O Great God by Bob Kauflin)

 

Thursday, May 18, 2017

wait and go

Do not leave Jerusalem, but wait for the gift my Father promised, which you have heard me speak about. (Acts 1:4)


Long, long ago in a land far, far away, I was once a child.  And in that childhood, which is getting harder and harder to remember as each day goes by, we used to play a game called "Red Light, Green Light."  I'm sure there were a million-and-one variations of this particular game, but the one I remember the most had to do with one person being "it" (any good game had to have someone who was "it") and everyone else, who, on command, were trying to make their way to the place where whoever was it stood.  The catch was that you could only move toward your goal when the person in command uttered the words "green light."  And whenever the words "red light" were spoken you had to stop in your tracks.  As I describe it now, I'm not really sure what made that game so much fun, but as I spent time in the scriptures today I became aware of how great it would be to have someone uttering those words in the chaos and frenzy of everyday life.

The spiritual life is filled with tensions.  And one of those tensions is that the scriptures clearly tell us that we must wait (Psalm 130:5-6) and we must go (Matthew 28:19).  Our job is to try to and figure out when to do each.  We even see it after the resurrection.  Jesus tells his friends to go and make disciples and he also tells them to stay in the city until they had been clothed with power from on high (Luke 24:49).  Since Matthew and Luke don't give us any indication as to which of these was spoken first, we can only assume that the waiting preceded the going.  Which, in general, is probably a good principal to live by.

But in the course of our everyday lives things are a little messier.  When the dust is flying, how is this call to wait and to go supposed to flesh itself out?  I don't know about you ,but I know that I tend to go at the expense of waiting far too often.  Which may mean that I am actually going in my own strength, or before I have been clothed with power from on high.  I know,  know, we all have the Spirit 24/7 now and are thus always technically clothed with power from on high.  But you know what I mean.  Many times I charge ahead and go without taking time to wait on God to empower and direct me the way he longs for me to be empowered and directed.  Which means that I am probably much less effective, and my activity is much less fruitful, than I would have, or could have, been if I had stopped and waited from him to fill and to lead and to guide me.

So maybe this whole tension is not that complicated after all.  Maybe all I really need to do is listen.  Maybe when I pay attention to God, and to the voice of his Spirit within me, I will actually hear him telling me when to do each, rather than constantly trying to figure it out on my own--or worse yet, constantly going without ever stopping to wait for him and listen for his guidance and direction in the first place.  Maybe it is time to blow the cobwebs off of that old game I played so many years ago.

"Not it!"

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

building vs. being built

Unless the Lord builds the house, those who build it labor in vain. (Psalm 127:1)

You also, like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood . . . (1 Peter 2:5)


We are builders by nature.  It seems to be woven into our DNA.  From the Tower of Babel, to the Roman Empire, to Microsoft, we just have a propensity to build things--be it a building, or a dynasty, or a business, or even a ministry.  Which is both a blessing and a curse.  For while building can be an asset if you are running a business, it is definitely a liability in the spiritual life. For in the spiritual life, the focus is not so much on building, as it is on being built.  It is not so much about what we can do, as it is about what God wants to do.  We can charge ahead into a thousand-and-one seemingly good plans, schemes, and agendas, and totally miss out on what God wants to build in us and through us.  So instead of grabbing that hammer and beginning to swing away at whatever grand project we have in our minds at the moment, let us, instead, consider how God might want us to be open and available for whatever he wants to build.  For apart from him, our very best work is only in vain.


O Lord our God, forgive us when we start constructing our own houses--living by our own agendas and devices--and attempt to pawn them off as yours.  When we do this we are greatly deceived; we are toiling in vain.  You build the house, O Lord, whatever that may be, whatever it may look like.  For only then will the work of our hands be of any eternal value.  

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

joy

o joy
you are such a puzzle
elusive and mysterious

you can't be manufactured
but can be grown
you can't be forced
but can be chosen

you are much more
than just a feeling
more durable and substantial
than mere happiness

you can bear
the presence of sadness
you can endure
the company of pain

but at the same time
you are hard to capture
difficult to tame and
impossible to conjure

you are foreign to me
not a natural part
of my typical
mode of operation

yet you continually invite me
to come and live in your house
to taste your fruit
to see through your eyes

o the mystery


Saturday, May 13, 2017

losing myself

there it goes again
that familiar struggle
between desire and need
between love and fear

it is such a fine line
one that is so easily
and subtly crossed
from i love you
to i need you

it is amazing how
something so beautiful
can become so tainted
in a matter of seconds

it is like a switch
is flipped inside
and i suddenly forget who i am
and instead start to grasp
for someone to be

Monday, May 8, 2017

good

in the midst of
the pain and chaos of life
the temptation arises to ask
am I being punished somehow
is that how it works
are you really good, o god
and what does that even mean

it is an epic struggle
to truly believe
in the goodness of god
especially in the presence
of the great sadness
it is a struggle indeed

but your goodness o god
is much bigger than
my circumstances
it simply has to be

your goodness
is not dependent upon
or determined by
my perception of
whatever is going on
in my life at the moment
for if it is then
heaven help me
i am in for
one hell of a ride

your goodness
must be deeper
and more substantial
than any circumstance
life could hand me
for it is rooted
in eternity
and thus
not easily seen
this side of heaven
unless of course
we are given eyes
to see

you are good
o lord
and that is that
when i choose
to believe
in your goodness
in spite of appearances
there is a rootedness
born in me
a solid place
from which to live
a on rock on which
to set my feet
in spite of whatever
storms might come

help me
o god
to believe
in your goodness
help me
to see
all of life
not as
right and privilege
but as
gift and gratitude
for you alone
o lord
are truly good

Sunday, May 7, 2017

fallow

every now
and again
the land must
simply lie fallow
in order to be all
that it was
intended to be

the same is true
of the soul

there is
a deep need
and a great necessity
in the life of the spirit
for our hearts
and our souls
to lie fallow

to create
a time
and a space
where we do
nothing
but rest
and recover

a time where we
accomplish nothing
produce nothing
achieve nothing

a time where
we do not try
to be helpful
or available
but only
replenish and renew
our souls
for years of
future fruitfulness

but o how difficult
the task
how hard it is
to create
and maintain
this time and space
to hold onto it
doggedly
against all
that would try
to fill it up

it takes
an enormous
amount
of discipline
and wisdom
and courage
to let the soul
just lie there
undisturbed

that is why
so few
ever do it

Friday, May 5, 2017

do you love me?

     When they had finished eating, Jesus said to Simon, "Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?"
     "Yes Lord," he said, "you know that I love you."
     Jesus said, "Feed my lambs." (John 21:15)


The resurrected Jesus gets right to the point.  He asks us the very same question he asked Simon Peter: "Do you love me more than these?"  It is the question of the entire spiritual life.  Do we love him more than these?  Do we love him more than our families?  Do we love him more than our friends?  Do we love him more than our careers?  Do we love him more than our very selves?  For until we love him, above and before all else, we cannot possibly do the work he has given us to do--feed his lambs.  For if we do not love Jesus first and foremost, we cannot possibly feed his lambs, we can only feed on his lambs.

Lord Jesus, help me to love you before all else today.  For only then can I truly love others the way you want me to--fully and freely.

Thursday, May 4, 2017

recognizing

Early in the morning, Jesus stood on the shore, but the disciples did not recognize that it was Jesus. (John 21:4)

It seems that one of the disciplines most necessary during the Easter season is the discipline of recognizing.  After all, the risen Christ could appear at any moment and we must pay careful attention, lest we miss him--just ask the disciples.  They were so busy not catching fish that they were oblivious to the fact that Jesus had been standing on the shore, at least long enough to build a fire and get some coals hot.  Why had they missed him?  The simple answer is that they were preoccupied.  They were so busy with the task at hand that they were paying no attention to anything else.  I get that.  I can get caught up in the comings and goings of my day just as easily.  Busyness, preoccupation, and hurry can blind me to the fact that Jesus is standing right there on the shoreline of my life and I have not recognized him.  I must learn how to slow down, to pay attention.  I must learn how to go through the course of my days with an eye out for the Risen One.  I must not let the chaos and activity of everyday life sweep me away and distract me from the real reason I am here in the first place--Jesus.

Lord Jesus, give me the grace and the ability to recognize you today, however you may come to me.  Amen.