Sunday, December 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



Wednesday, December 6, 2017

advent waiting

Unless the Lord builds the house, its builders labor in vain. (Psalm 127:1)


Advent is not about trying to create or produce or build something, it is about waiting for God to reveal something.  It is about resisting the urge to do and embracing the urge to be.  It is a time where we wait for the Lord.  We do not wait for the Lord to show up and do something, for he was never absent.  He is always present (Psalm 139:7-12), always working (John 5:17), always speaking (Psalm 19:1-14).  We wait for the Lord because he is already doing something and we just need to be able to see and to hear what that is.

Help us, O Lord, to live our lives always and only in response to you.  Help us to do nothing, or initiate nothing, that you have not already begun.  Give us the desire and the ability to join you in what you are doing.  Show us where you are at work, O God, and let us join you in that, whatever that may look like.  In the name of Jesus, the One who comes, we pray.  Amen.


Be up and awake to what God is doing! (Romans 13:11, The Message)

Monday, December 4, 2017

ready

Roll up your sleeves, put your mind in gear, be totally ready to receive the gift that's coming when Jesus arrives.  Don't lazily slip back into those old grooves of evil, doing just what you feel like doing.  You didn't know any better then, you do now.  As obedient children, let yourselves be pulled into a way of life shaped by God's life, a life energetic and blazing with holiness. (1 Peter 1:13-16, The Message)


Two words that seem to be coming up often, as the season of Advent begins, are awake and ready. One of them (awake) has to do with a way of being, and the other (ready) has to do with a mode of operation--what it takes to live a life that is awake and alert.  It is like the parable of the oil and the lamps.  Staying awake is only one part of the equation, albeit a very important part.  We must also be ready.  Or, better yet, we must also make ourselves ready--constantly.  Preparations must be made in advance, so that when the time of the arrival comes, we will have oil for our lamps.  During Advent we watch and wait, but that is not a passive thing.  The kind of watching and waiting we are called to do is an active, expectant, anticipatory waiting.  It is a waiting in which our souls stand on tiptoe, knowing that the arrival is imminent, and that we must be ready, whenever and wherever and however it comes to pass.  That is why we must roll up our sleeves and put our minds in gear, so that we will be totally ready to receive the gift that's coming when Jesus arrives. 

Come, Lord Jesus!

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

toiling in vain


Unless the Lord builds the house, its builders labor in vain.  Unless the Lord watches over the city, the watchmen stand guard in vain.  In vain you rise early and stay up late toiling for food to eat--for he grants rest to his beloved. (Psalm 127:1-2)


This life is a constant battle between being whom and what God made us to be—in all of its truth and all of its beauty—and trying to be something, or someone, other than that.  It is the difference between receiving a self (a true, God-breathed self) and trying to manufacture one.  It is the difference between being organic (or authentic) and being synthetic.

    
We are builders by nature, even when it comes to the self.  We are always, it seems, trying to build a life, a career, or a reputation—trying to make a name for ourselves—when who we are has already been whispered into us before the foundations of the world.  We just need to find out who that is and be that.  A dear friend once said, “I think I’ve been asking the wrong question most of my life.  I’ve been asking, ‘God, what do you want me to do?’ when I should have been asking, ‘God, who do you want me to be, and help me to do whatever helps me to be that.’”

    
That’s where this Psalm comes in.  It is a reminder from God about the order and essence of real life.  Whenever we start building (even a self to be), our labor will most likely be in vain.  The true self is God-built.  We just need to discover who that is and what that looks like in the world.  When we start trying to make something of ourselves, we just end up creating layer upon layer of falseness, “putting on coats against the cold” as Frederick Buechner once called it.  And that is the definition of toil—laboring in vain.


    
Give me the wisdom, O Lord, to know the difference—this day and every day—between who you truly made me to be and what I have merely tried to manufacture as a result of my own fears and insecurities.

Thursday, November 16, 2017

word within

The word is very near you; it is in your mouth and in your heart so you may obey it. (Deuteronomy 30:14)


If we let the word of God take up residence within us, it will become something.  It is alive.  In fact, “It is living and active and sharper than any double-edged sword,” the writer of Hebrews reminds us.  We do not have to try and make it into something, it already is something, and will become something more in us as we give it time and space.
     
The problem is that while we may indeed read the word of God, we do not typically allow it the time and the space to become—to live and dwell within us.  We do not give it room to have a life of its own.  Therefore, more often than not, the seed of the word falls on the hardened path of our own busyness and activity and comes to nothing.  What a tragedy.
    
If we truly desire intimacy with God, if we truly want to hear God speak to us, we must learn how to plant his word in our hearts and souls in a way that it comes alive in us, and then works its way out into our lives and our world.  We must, as Eugene Peterson so beautifully said, turn our eyes into ears.  We must come to God’s word fully realizing its personal and specific nature, fully realizing its potential to speak deeply into our hearts and lives.  And we must make time and space for it to do so.  It will not happen by accident.      



This commandment that I’m commanding you today isn’t too much for you, it’s not out of your reach. It’s not on a high mountain—you don’t have to get mountaineers to climb the peak and bring it down to your level and explain it before you can live it. And it’s not across the ocean—you don’t have to send sailors out to get it, bring it back, and then explain it before you can live it. No. The word is right here and now—as near as the tongue in your mouth, as near as the heart in your chest. Just do it! (Deuteronomy 30:11-14, The Message)

Saturday, November 11, 2017

flame on

No one lights a lamp and hides it in a jar or puts it under a bed.  Instead, he puts it on a stand, so that those who come in can see the light." (Luke 8:16)


You have lit this flame in me, O God, and I burn with love for you.  Yet at times I am content to hide the flame, to put it in a jar or under a bed, rather than setting it on a stand and letting it shine.  Sometimes I do this out of fear, sometimes I do it out of laziness, and sometimes I do it out of comfort--not wanting to go through the anxiety and the angst that putting this light on a stand creates in me.  But this flame, which you have lit, was made to shine, so that those who come in can see the light.  All it really costs me is to be; to be the one you have made me to be, and shine.  After all, that's what a light does.  Right?

Shine your light in and through me, O God, that those who come in can see the light of your love and your presence that resides in my heart and surrender themselves to you.  Amen.

Friday, November 10, 2017

subtraction by addition

     His divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness.  Through these he has given us his very great and precious promises, so that through them you may participate in the divine nature and escape the corruption in the world caused by evil desires.
     For this very reason, make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; and to godliness, brotherly kindness; and to brotherly kindness, love.  For if you possess these qualities in increasing measure, they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.  But if anyone does not have them, he is nearsighted and blind, and has forgotten that he has been cleansed from his past sins.
     Therefore, my brothers, be all the more eager to make your calling and election sure.  For if you do these things, you will never fall, and you will receive a rich welcome into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. (2 Peter 1:3-11)


Life with Jesus, it seems, is more about addition than subtraction.  Or, at the very least, subtraction by addition.  I don't know why it has taken me so long to understand that.  For most of my life I have taken it on myself (with God's help of course) to try and eliminate all of the habits and patterns and vices and dysfunctions and sin that fills my heart and my life.  And, for the most part, I have failed miserably at ever being able to do that.  But maybe my problem has been that I have had it all backwards.  Maybe living life with Jesus is much less about subtracting sin than about adding more of God.  Don't get me wrong, of course God wants sin eliminated from our lives.  But how that happens is not so much through the subtraction of vice, as it is through the addition of God.  Not so much through the push of "ought and should," as the pull of love and affection.  Thus, as God fills more and more of my heart and soul, as he seizes me more and more with the power of his great affection, there will be less room in me (and less desire) for sin.  Thomas Chalmers once called this  The Expulsive Power of a New Affection. The only way to eliminate a lesser affection is to be captured by a greater affection.

I think that's what Peter is getting at here.  He doesn't focus as much on what needs to be eliminated, as he does on what needs to be added.  That's how lasting change really happens, through the pull of God's love.  That's the place where making every effort can be a really helpful thing.  It is not making every effort not to sin (good luck with that), but making every effort to add more of God--more virtue--in your life.  Then the space that was once occupied by sin will, instead, end up being occupied by Love.  Do not be overwhelmed and overcome by staring constantly at the negative, but be consumed and compelled by the positive.  It is very similar to what Paul said in Philippians 4:8-9.  We do not overcome anxiety by constantly trying not to be anxious.  We overcome anxiety by focusing on that which is true, noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent, and praiseworthy.  We overcome anxiety by filling our minds and hearts with the beauty of God, by truly coming to know the God of peace.

Thus, Peter says that in order to live the life God wants to live in and through us--to be participants in the divine nature--we need only to add to our faith goodness.  That is where it all begins.  Pray.  Meditate.  Make time and space for God to move and act.  Ask him to plant his goodness in us.  And, as far as making every effort is concerned, be good.  Focus on being good--to yourself, to your spouse, to your kids, to your friends, to your world.  Make a concentrated effort to add more goodness to our lives, to our inner dialogue, to our conversations, to our interactions.  And before we know it, as goodness has begun to take root in us, add some knowledge (of God, of the Scriptures, of ourselves, of others)--and so on.  And eventually, as we are faithful in our adding, we will find our way to love.  Not just an outside in kind of love, but a love that has grown organically within us as a result of us adding more of God to our lives.  Thanks be to God that he has indeed, given us all we need  for life and godliness.  All we need to do is fill our lives with all that he has given.
  

Sunday, November 5, 2017

using jesus

Beware of the teachers of the law.  They like to walk around in flowing robes and love to be greeted in the marketplaces and have the most important seats in the synagogues and the places of honor at banquets.  They devour widows' houses and for a show make lengthy prayers.  Such men will be punished most severely.  (Luke 20:46-47)


The Pharisees and the teachers of the law loved the respect and the honor, the popularity and the reputation that came with their position.  At some point, I'm sure, there was a deep love for God and a genuine desire to serve him that was the main motivation for their lives of service.  But somewhere along the line that once pure desire had become tainted.  In fact, as Jesus comes on the scene in Luke 20, it seems that they were much more in love with the perks of their position than they were with the God who put them in it.  Somewhere along the line they had begun to use God rather than serve God.  It was a subtle shift that I'm sure they were hardly able to notice, but an enormous one.  And now they mostly used their role in the life of Israel to serve themselves, not their God.

There is a great temptation in the life of faith, particularly in the life of ministry, to use Jesus rather than serve Jesus.  The problem is that the difference can be incredibly subtle.  And, more often than not, we do both at the very same time.  The biggest problem with the Pharisees and the teachers of the law was that they were a little more obvious in their using of God for their own purposes.  And because of that, Jesus had some pretty harsh words for them.  But if we think that we are above doing the same, we are deceiving ourselves.  We're just a little better at hiding it.

There is a very thin line between using Jesus and serving Jesus.  And oftentimes it is in the serving of Jesus that we get lost in the using of Jesus.  It's like we were en route to a really good destination and somehow lost our way.  As we served Jesus, we began to realize that we could actually use Jesus to meet our own needs for security and significance.  By "serving" Jesus we found out that we could actually gain notoriety or popularity or reputation for ourselves.  In fact, many of us might have ventured into ministry in the first place because of what it could do for us, rather than what we could do for Him.  We tasted a little of what the Pharisees and the teachers of the law tasted, and liked the way it felt.  We liked what it did for us to be significant in the lives of people.  It fed something deep within us.  We liked that serving Jesus could become an avenue to a career, a vocation, or a decent income.  Or maybe we started out on a really good and pure path and discovered these other things along the way.  And now we are unwilling or unable to give up the reputation or the position or the paycheck that ministry provides.  We started out as followers, but quickly realized that by being a follower we could gain followers, and we liked that.

There is no better example of this than the world of social media.  It brings this truth right out in the open.  In the world of likes and followers, we all have learned the secret that giving likes and becoming followers is the best way to receive likes and gain followers.  And having a lot of likes and a ton of followers feels really good. It makes us feel valuable and necessary.

I guess the reason I bring this up is because I truly believe that most of us deeply desire to serve Jesus rather than use Jesus.  We desire to serve Jesus for Jesus' sake and not our own.  Somewhere in us there is a pure desire to return to the purest form of life and ministry: loving and serving Jesus simply for Jesus' sake.  But in order to do this a few things must happen.  First, we must recognize and admit the ugly truth that lives deep in our hearts. Then we must bring that ugly truth to God.  Finally, after we have recognized and admitted the truth, we must turn away from all the patterns and the ways and the means by which we have tried to use Jesus for our own benefit, and turn back to him in simple love, desire, and adoration.  It is a continual process, but one in which, by the grace and strength of God, we will make progress as we continue to walk in the way of Jesus and become more and more like him, rather than continuing to walk in the way of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law who use Jesus for their own benefit.  And by God's mercy we will.

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

building versus 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)


There is a definite tension in the life of faith between building and being built.  We all, it seems, are builders by trade.  We make plans, we gather materials, and then we make the magic happen--or so it seems. 

But the scriptures tell us a different story.  The scriptures tell us that the life of faith is not as much about building, as it is about being built.  Not as much about acting, as it is about being acted upon.  Not as much about manufacturing, as it is about growing organically.  Not as much about production, as it is about fruitfulness.  Not as much about initiative, as it is about receptivity.  Not as much about doing, as it is about being.  Not as much about our activity, as it is about God's.

So how do we make this necessary shift within?  How do we put down our hammers and stop building our "houses" and start letting God do his work on and in and through us?  My guess is that it starts with stillness, and silence, and prayer.  It starts by coming before God with no plans or agendas, with no blueprints or diagrams.  It starts by letting go of our self-importance, which ironically is a product of our own insecurities, and realizing that apart from God's hand we can build nothing of lasting value.  In other words, it starts by stopping.  For when we stop, it gives God space to move and to act.  We are no longer taking up all of the room.  

Maybe I'll give that a try today.

Thursday, October 26, 2017

wait

I wait for the Lord, my souls waits, and in his word I put my hope.  My soul waits for the Lord more than watchmen wait for the morning, more than watchmen wait for the morning.  ~Psalm 130:5-6


There it is, right there in the scriptures, over and over again.  It is hard to ignore or deny.  But it is also just as hard to figure out what it looks like.  It is the word wait.  God tells us over and over again to wait for the Lord.  Unfortunately, we aren't very good at that.  It's sort of counter-intuitive.  "We are people of action," we defiantly claim.  "We can't just sit around on our hands doing nothing."  And therein lies our great mistake.  We assume that waiting is doing nothing, when nothing could be further from the truth. 

Waiting creates dependence.  And the truth is that we hate being dependent on anyone or anything--even God.  Therefore, we simply refuse to wait, much to our own demise.  In fact, we are people who avoid waiting at all costs.  We constantly look for the shortest lives, the faster lane of traffic, the quickest way to accomplish the many tasks on our lists.  We are all about efficiency.  However, efficiency in this world and efficiency in the kingdom of God are two completely different things.

God says, "Wait for the Lord.  Stay put until I have spoken or acted, and then (and only then) join me.  Don't assume that you know what is right or what is best, but trust completely in my guidance and my direction--even in prayer.  Don't go charging right into prayer with a plethora or words and requests.  Wait.  I will speak.  And after I do, answer me."  I guess that's why Eugene Peterson says that prayer is always and only answering speech.  Prayer is simply answering the God who has already spoken.

Unfortunately, we get this backwards all too often; not only in prayer, but also in life.  We spring into action and then think to pray.  We charge ahead with our own plans, schemes, and agendas and then ask God to join us.  We ask him to bless our way, rather than us following his way.  And then we wonder why God doesn't seem to show up, or answer, or move, or bless.  The fact is that he already has, but we simply weren't paying attention.  It seems to me that we could save ourselves a whole lot of trouble and heartache if we would simply get the order right.  Wait.  Listen.  Then respond.  Then pray.  Then act.  That way there would be a whole lot less wasted movement.

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

return

"...you have scattered your favors
to foreign gods under every spreading tree..."
"Return, faithless people," declares the Lord,
"for I am your husband." (Jer. 3:13-14)


o my bride
my church
i am your God
your husband
your lover 

i made you for myself
that i might give myself to you
that you might live with me
in a sacred romance
in union and intimacy
beyond your wildest dreams

but you have turned away
you have given
the most intimate
parts of yourself
to other lovers

you have given your
attention and affection
to foreign gods
that do not love you
the way i do

you have scattered
your favors to them
under every green tree

o my love
my bride
what shall i do with you
you have broken my heart

how i long to be
the focus of all your love
the object of
your deepest affections

how i long for you
to return to our bed
that i might show
my love to you once again.

but i will not share you
with another
i will not compete
for your love

you must leave
your other lovers
and return to me

return to me
my love
my bride
for i am
your one true love


 

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.