Sunday, December 30, 2018

why have you treated us like this?

"Why have you treated us like this?  Your father and I have been anxiously searching for you." (Luke 2:48)

We are not so different, it seems, from Mary and Joseph.  For when we can’t seem to find Jesus—when he is not where we think he ought to be—we also tend to ask the questions: “Where are you?  Why have you treated us this way?”  As if our idea of where Jesus should be and what he should do were somehow more accurate than his own.

But luckily Jesus doesn’t cater to us.  He doesn’t always behave quite the way we want him to.  He operates on a whole different wavelength.  He sees things from a larger, more eternal perspective, and he acts accordingly.  Therefore, he doesn’t always give us what we want, or what we think we need.  But he is always present; just maybe not in the ways we are demanding and expecting at the moment.  He is always right where he is supposed to be.  “Why were you looking all over for me?” he says.  “I’m right where I’m supposed to be, in my Father’s house.  I am also in my word and in my creation and even in your heart, as well as the hearts of those you are in community with.  So don’t run around anxiously looking for me, you know right where to find me.  I am, and always will be, Emmanuel, God with us.” 

So when we find ourselves asking Jesus, as Mary and Joseph did, “Why have you treated us this way?” we need to ask ourselves what is behind that question.  For there are two different ways of looking at it.  One way is through the lenses of demand and entitlement, as if saying, “Jesus, why are you not where I think you should be and why are you not doing what I think you should do?”  But the other way of seeing this question is much different, and much more life-giving.  It is looking at it through the lenses of grace and gratitude.  It is when we come to Jesus, not demanding that he show up in some preconceived way, but grateful that he has made us his own when he did not have to, and when we did not deserve it.  It is coming to him with a spirit that says, “God, I do not deserve you.  I do not deserve your grace and I do not deserve your blessings.  But even still, you, because of your great love, have made me your own.  You have blessed me with life and salvation and family and community that I do not deserve.  Thank you!”  The question is, what lenses will I choose to look through today?  How will I ask that question?  Because how I ask that question makes all the difference.

Tuesday, December 25, 2018

make room

So she wrapped him in cloths 
and placed him in a manger, 
because there was no room 
for them in the inn. (Luke 2:7)

If you do not make room,
I will just have to come somewhere else.
My coming is not dependent on the room you make,
but your ability to witness and partake in that coming is.
So if you make no room for me,
I will find a manger somewhere.
And those watching and waiting,
those paying attention, will see my glory.
They will be immersed in angel-songs
so beautiful that they are simply beyond description.
They will be awestruck in wonder
and will be seized by the power of my great affection.
So please, make room for me to be born in you today.
The celebration just wouldn't be complete without you.

Thursday, December 20, 2018

joseph

i often find myself wondering 
whenever i hear the Story 
if you somehow felt shortchanged 

and yet
that does not 
seem to fit your personality
it does not seem to represent 
who you are 
so quiet and so hidden 
and yet so vital 
to the Story's unfolding 

mary made space for God 
in an extraordinarily beautiful way 
but so did you 
hers was a making of space 
for God to grow in her womb 
and yours was a making of space 
in a completely different manner 

you made space by
not occupying it all yourself 
you made space 
by stepping aside
by fading 
into the background
so that God 
could occupy center stage
for you fully realized
that this Story
was not about you

oh how i need
to learn to be
more like that

Friday, December 14, 2018

weakness

"My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness." Therefore I will boast all the more in my weaknesses, so that Christ's power may rest on me. (2 Cor. 12:9)


So Jesus tells us that the best way to experience his power is through our weaknesses rather than our strengths. Hmmm.  Power through weakness. How counterintuitive is that? 

It seems like I spend most of my days doing the exact opposite.  I typically try to cover, or compensate for, or hide my weaknesses, so no one ever sees them.  But apparently, when I do this, I am limiting God's power to work in and through me in some mysterious way.  Because Jesus tells me that the way to power lies in weakness not in strength.

I don't know about you, but I expend a lot of effort and energy every day wrestling with my weaknesses, when it sounds like the way to life and power comes through embracing them.  Somehow embracing my weaknesses makes good space for God to work and to act.  And putting it all on God's shoulders rather than my own sounds so much easier, doesn't it?

I have experienced the beauty of this a time or two in my fifty-eight years.  There have been times when I finally got so tired and worn out from trying to do it on my own that I collapsed in a heap and allowed Jesus to come in and take over.  I wish it didn't have to come to that.  And maybe  as I grow older and wiser it won't have to.  Who knows?  A man can dream, right?

Thursday, December 6, 2018

mercy

Out of the depths I cry to you, O Lord, hear my voice. Let your ears be attentive to my cries for mercy.  If you, O Lord, kept a record of sins, Lord, who could stand?  But with you there is forgiveness, therefore you are feared.  I wait for the Lord, my soul 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.  O Israel, put your hope in the Lord, for with the Lord is unfailing love and with him is full redemption.  he will redeem Israel from all their sins. (Psalm 130:1-8, NIV)

Most often, the cry for mercy comes out of a deep sense of desperation and powerlessness.  It comes when we finally realize that we are unable to control and manage things on our own.  There are, of course, times when we have the illusion of control, and thus a lesser sense of our own inability to arrange life for ourselves, but it is just a mirage.  Before long the truth is revealed, chaos once again rears its head, and we are reminded of our deep need for mercy.  So we, like the psalmist, cry out to God, and wait for him to come and intervene.  It is incredibly humbling.

There is nothing quite like waiting in the life of the Spirit.  It accomplishes so many good things within us.  And one of the main things it accomplishes, is teaching us humility.  There is a lot of humility in waiting.  Waiting requires a deep acknowledgement that I am not in control, but am ultimately powerless and dependent upon God.  Therefore, Advent, the season of waiting, is the perfect opportunity to embrace this humility, and to exercise it.

Maybe crying out for mercy is a great place to start.

Monday, December 3, 2018

prepare

A voice of one calling : "In the desert prepare the way for the Lord; make straight in the wilderness a highway for our God." (Isaiah 40:3)

You prepare a table for me in the presence of my enemies...(Psalm 23:5)


The season of Advent is a season of preparation.  It is the time and the season where we prepare for Christmas--the arrival of the Christ into this dark and broken world.  This preparation is not just a one way street; there is a duality to it.  It is God preparing us for something and God preparing something for us.  Or in the words of Psalm 23, God is preparing a table for us, and God is preparing us for a table.  When the meal is ready, and we are ready for the meal, the feast can begin.  But until then, all we can really do is smell the goodness of what he's cooking up and wait for it with eager anticipation.

Saturday, December 1, 2018

ready

I don't know about you, but I am ready for Advent.  I am ready for a change.  I am ready for a season.  I am ready for something new.  Ordinary time, as great as it is, can get really long, especially towards the end.  Which makes it nice to have a theme to lean into.  Thank goodness for this time of year.

Advent starts tomorrow.  It is the season of watching and waiting and longing for the coming of the Christ into this dark and broken world.  It is the time of year where we embrace the here and now, long for what is not yet, and hope for what is to come.

In the here and now, we embrace the fact that God is always present (Ps. 139:7-12), always at work (John 5:17), even when we cannot yet see what that work may be.  He has not abandoned us.  He is with us in ways we cannot imagine or conceive.  And not only is he with us, but he is working in us.  He knows how fruitful the practice of waiting can be when it comes to the life of the Spirit.  Advent calls us to embrace this waiting.  It calls us to be fully present in the here and now as we wait, even if we cannot yet tell exactly what God is up to.

And not only does Advent call us to embrace the here and now, but it also calls us to long for the not yet.  This one is not hard.  Each of us has a deep desire for all things to be as they were created to be.  In the midst of the pain and brokenness around us, and within us, we are invited to long (even groan) for all things to be as they were intended.  Wholeness was the creation intent, and to wholeness will all things return.  Yet, in the meantime, in the not yet, all we can do is long for the day and the time when it will be a reality.

And finally, there is what is to come: the new heavens and the new earth.  The time of no more tears or sorrow or pain.  The time when God will be our God and we will be his people . . .fully.  It will happen.  It is not a question of if but a question of when.  And it is this hope that gives us the life and the energy, and the urgency, to live the way God wants us to live.  It helps us to be strong and courageous; to be faithful and never lose heart.

So bring it on.  I'm so ready.  I am ready to watch and wait and long and hope.  I am ready to embrace the here and now, to long for the not yet, and to hope for that which is to come. Thanks be to God.

Tuesday, November 27, 2018

be still

Finish this sentence: "Be still and know that I am God..."

If you are like me, it is likely that you responded, "Period."  After all, most of us don't know, or don't remember, that there is much more to that famous sentence than just the part we so readily quote off the top of our heads.  And ironically, the part we don't remember is actually key to accomplishing the part that we do remember.  Being still and knowing that he is God is not an easy task.  In fact, for many of us, stillness is something that feels darn near impossible.  Why is that?

That's where the second part of the sentence comes in: "I will be exalted among the nations; I will be exalted in the earth." (Psalm 46:10)  What a great reminder from God: "Me being exalted is not up to you.  In fact, I will be exalted just fine without you.  And until you truly believe that, you will never be able to be still and silent before me.  The salvation of the world does not depend on you, but on me.  You are not as necessary in the grand scheme of things as you'd like to think you are.  That is not meant to diminish or demean you, but to set you free.  So be still and know that I am God.  That is not a suggestion or a recommendation, but a command.  I will be exalted among the nations; and I will be exalted on earth.  I will be exalted in your family and in your work and in your neighborhood and in your world, and even in your ministry, with or without you.  After all, it is not your life and your ministry, and even your world, in the first place, but mine.  So be still and know that I am God.  I've got this.  And if you do not fully believe that, if you do not fully believe the second part of the verse, then you will never be able to experience the first part.  And I want so much more for you than that."  

So let us pray the words of this ancient prayer.  For maybe if we are faithful to pray them over and over again, we will one day come to believe them.  And then maybe they will begin to take shape and take root in our hearts and our lives.

Monday, November 19, 2018

abba's song

zeph. 3:17

shhh
hush my child
listen
can you hear it

it is the song of 
delight and affection
i constantly sing
over you

this noisy world
and your fragile heart
make it hard 
to hear

but it is there
always there
it never stops
echoing 

slow your pace
and quiet your soul
and you will
hear it

once you do
you will never
be the same
again

for it will
awaken you
deep within
and bring you to life

in a way that 
makes you 
unable to live 
as you once did

for you will 
have heard the song 
from which and for which
you were made

and now 
all of life is 
a continual quest
to hear it again and again

so hush my child
be still and listen 
to my song of love
sung over you

love
abba

Friday, November 16, 2018

sean



Remembering a remarkable and courageous young man today.  Amazing how spending just a few minutes with someone can have such a dramatic impact on our lives.  Apparently Sean did that to a lot of people:) I need to remember that in every encounter and conversation I have today.  Prayers to the Karl family, thanks for sharing Sean with us.

Thursday, November 15, 2018

wait

I wait for the Lord, my soul 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.  O Israel, put your hope in the Lord. (Psalm 130:5-7)


Waiting is no easy thing.  In fact, it takes quite a bit of effort.  But effort in a much different way than we are used to.  There is a letting go that is necessary in waiting: a letting go of control and opinion and agenda; a letting go of strength and power and adequacy.  Waiting is the place where we have to come face to face with our inability to make things happen for ourselves.  Thus, it can be an incredibly humbling process.


But waiting is not only about letting go, there is also a taking hold that is necessary.  We must begin to embrace—rather than deny—our own vulnerability, dependence, and weakness.  For the scriptures clearly tell us that “When we are weak, we are strong.” (2 Cor. 12:10)  Waiting puts us in a place where we must confront our own nothingness and find that it is not an enemy, but a friend.  It has something of incredible value to teach us, if we are willing to listen. 

Therefore, waiting is never passive, but always active.  It involves the movement from clenched fists to open hands.  For clenched fists can never receive anything.  And, in the end, waiting is always about receiving.  It is about realizing that we cannot control or contrive or manipulate God into giving us anything, we must simply learn to wait with open hands to receive whatever he decides to give, whenever he decides to give it.  Thus, our hope is not in our own efforts, gifts, and abilities, but in his grace alone, which is always sufficient.

Monday, November 12, 2018

his kiss

let him kiss me
with the kisses
of his mouth
~song of songs 1:2


if it does not
start with a kiss
it starts awry

passion dries up
and turns to chore
affection deteriorates
into obligation
and romance 
becomes duty

therefore
let us first
receive his holy kiss
let us know
the intimacy of
his divine embrace
let us be captured
by the depth of
his great affection

and let that alone
determine
everything else

Tuesday, November 6, 2018

note to self


Don’t think more highly of yourself than you ought.

Don’t try to sound like you know more than you do.

Live your life quietly and share your life humbly.

Be like a weaned child with its mother.

Don’t overestimate your own importance.

Don’t exaggerate your own significance.

Don’t promote your own indispensability.

Don’t fall in love with your own opinion.

The world will get along just fine without it.

The world needs your care and your presence

More than it needs your words.

So say less and love more.

Thursday, November 1, 2018

something, nothing, everything

why do i 
keep trying to 
become something
when you
ask me to
become nothing
so that you might
be everything

Saturday, October 27, 2018

enough

The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.  He makes me lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside quiet waters, he restores my soul. (Psalm 23:1-3)

Sometimes we can become so familiar with something that we stop recognizing and appreciating its beauty.  I think that’s definitely true of the twenty-third Psalm.  The words have become so familiar that we skim right over the surface of them, without allowing them to get inside of us and penetrate us to the core of our being.  We do this at our own expense, because the words of this ancient prayer are chocked full of beauty and life.


The Lord is my shepherd,” begins the familiar refrain, “I shall not want.”  And we need to stop right there and begin to consider the depths of what has just been said.  We need to give these words the time and the space and the attention they deserve.  And if we do, they will do a work in—and then through—us.  After all, what does that really mean anyway?  What does it really mean that the Lord is my shepherd?  And how is it even possible for me not to want?


The word for want in the Hebrew is chacer, which, at its core, means to be lacking.  So if the Lord truly is my shepherd, whatever that may mean, then I will not be lacking.  I will not lack provision, I will not lack affection, and I will not lack worth and value.  He is enough.  He is enough for me, and I am enough in him.  How incredibly freeing!  But do I really believe this?  Do I really believe God is enough?  And am I able to trust in, and rest in, his enough-ness?


For if I do not really believe God is enough, I will never be able to lie down in green pastures or be led beside quiet waters.  I will be too busy and frantic trying to provide for myself, and prove to myself and my world that I am worth loving.  I shall not want always precedes being able to lie down in green pastures and being willing to be led beside quiet waters. If I can come to terms with the enough-ness of my God, and, therefore, the enough-ness of myself (in him), then I can really be free from want.  Free to love and to serve those in my life and my world without needing them in some sadly dysfunctional way.


The kicker is that I must truly believe that God is enough for me.  And I must truly believe that God is enough in me.  And I must truly believe that God is enough through me.  That alone is the only thing that can restore my soul.


So, I have to ask:  Is God enough for you?  I mean, really?  What does the enough-ness of God do within you?  How does it free you?  How does it give you rest, and restore your soul?    

Thanks be to God, our Good Shepherd, that he is enough.  Even to the point where we can not want.

Monday, October 22, 2018

fitting


"Praise the Lord.  How good it is to sing praises to our God, how pleasant and fitting to praise him!" (Psalm 147:1)  

So I leave today to lead a silent retreat for a group of “twenty-somethings” living and working in Knoxville.  And as I do, I have long been aware of a strange dynamic that takes place within me whenever I leave to go and do whatever it is that God has called me to go and do.  There is a definite sense of excitement (most times) about the people and the place and the time that we will spend together.  But there is also a sense of sadness, even when I am really excited about where I am going and what I am doing.  I have always attributed this sadness to the constant sense of anxiety that I live with on a daily basis; my thorn in the flesh, if you will.  Or, should I say, one of my thorns—at least Paul only had one, right?

But today as I was praying Psalm 147, God met me in a really sweet way.  He gave me a bit of an epiphany.  One of my dear, and very wise, friends always says, when praying the Psalms, we should “Listen to the words of the ancient prayer and listen for the prayer of God that rises in our hearts.”  Well, today what rose in my heart was the word “fitting.”  For some reason that word just leapt off the page.  So I stopped, and I asked God what it was about that word that made it his word for me today.  And as I meditated on the word fitting, and began to dig down a little deeper (quarrying instead of strip mining it), I discovered that the Hebrew word translated as fitting (in Psalm 147:1) is probably most accurately translated to be at home.  As in, we are most at home, most ourselves, most who we were made to be, when we are praising God.  It just fitsThat’s when it hit me: I love to be home.  When I am at home I am most at peace and most at rest—most myself in a really beautiful way.  And I hate to leave home; that’s where the sadness comes in.  And thus, this sadness is not a bad thing.  In fact, it is a very, very good thing—the Genesis 1 kind of good.

That’s when God began to really answer the question of why this word (fitting) was my word for the day.  You love home.  You love being at home.  And that is a very, very good thing.  I actually made you to be at home; that’s what life with me was intended to be.  And the way you feel when you are at home is the way I made you to feel all the time—in me.  I am your true home.  And you do not have to be at your house to be at home in me.  That can take place wherever you go and whatever you do.  All you have to do is choose to be at home in me.  Choose praise.  Choose joy.  Choose gladness.  Choose life.  Choose to make your home in me, just as I have made my home in you.  Now that is good, and pleasant, and fitting!”

So please pray that no matter where I am, or what I do, I will learn how to always know and experience the joy of being at home—in Him. 

(By the way, I wrote this Saturday morning just before I went to lead a retreat...that was wonderful.  God is so good.  Praise him!)

Thursday, October 18, 2018

rest

psalm 62:5

when the world is pressing in
and my heart a jumble of
anxiety and weariness

i look to You
i come to the quiet
where your fullness resides
where my best self is kept
and i can breathe again

my soul can stop
and i can lay my head
upon your great big heart
and find my rest in You

Tuesday, October 16, 2018

shepherded

May you know the Lord as your shepherd today. The one who makes you lie down, leads you into quiet stillness, and restores your soul. The one who guides you in right paths for his name’s sake. The one who protects you and keeps you, who comforts and watches over you, and who is with you in the darkest valley. The one who prepares a table for you, anoints your head with oil, and makes your cup overflow. The one who pursues you relentlessly with his unfailing love and care all the days of your life.

Wednesday, October 10, 2018

exalted


Be still and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, and I will be exalted on earth. (Psalm 46:10)

I will be exalted in the heavens.  And I will be exalted on earth.  I will be exalted in your life and I will be exalted in your family.  I will be exalted in your work and I will be exalted in your church.  I made you to participate in that process, not to compete.  I made you to exalt me, not yourself.  And the best way you can do that is to be yourself; to be the person I dreamt into being before the foundations of the world.  For, ironically, when you try to be more than yourself, you become far less.     

So be still, and know that I am God.  Stop trying so hard.  Stop trying to impress and compete.  Stop trying to perform and achieve.  Stop trying to look and sound like you know more than you do.  Stop living in fear that others will get the recognition from the world that you so deeply desire.  Stop trying to lift yourself up above others, and above me.  It is not the reason I made you.  And if you keep it up, it will wear you down and burn you out.  I want so much more for you than that.
     
You are my masterpiece, not the Master.  You are a work of art never to be repeated.  Be who you are, and let me be who I am.  In fact, being who you are is a living example, a walking testimony, of who I am.  The masterpiece does not exalt itself, but the one who created it.  A beautiful painting does not say to the world, “Look at me!  Look what I did!”  No, it is simply a beautiful expression of the One who painted it.  And a song cannot take credit for having been written, or sung.  No, it is content to be the glory of the One who brought, or sang, it into being.  Be content to be my song to this broken and hurting world.  For when people hear the music, they will be drawn to its Source.  And I will be exalted in the heavens. And I will be exalted on earth.

Monday, October 8, 2018

unshaken faith

The Lord is our refuge and strength, and ever-present help in trouble.  Therefore we will not fear though the earth give way and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea, though the waters roar and foam and the mountains quake with their surging. (Psalm 46:1-3)

The Lord Almighty is with us, the God of Jacob is our fortress. (Psalm 46:7, 11)


It is pretty easy to have faith when everything is going your way, or when God is answering your prayers in the way that you hoped he would.  But what about the times when the answer to your deepest, most desperate prayers is different from what you were asking and hoping for?  It is easy to have faith in God when you get a yes, but what about when you get a no?  And inevitably, in this life, that happens to each of us.  So it really is not a question of  if, but of when.  And when it does happen, what will your faith look like then?  Will it be shaken, or will it remain strong?

Thus far in my journey with Jesus, I can remember two different times when God's answer to my deepest, most desperate prayers was a resounding no.  No, he would not let things work out like I was begging and pleading for him to.  No, he would not give me what I was asking for.  But what he would give me was himself.  The greatest truth of our faith is that even when the earth gives way and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea, even when the waters roar and foam and the mountains quake with their surging, God has not abandoned us.  The Lord Almighty is with us in some mysterious, wonderful, intimate, and powerful way.  The God of Jacob is our fortress.  And it is this with-ness that changes and transforms us.  At least it has me.

The two times I got a no from God were the hardest, but most transforming times in my life.  Because God did not leave me to travel the hard and painful road alone, but he traveled it with me.  As a matter of fact, he traveled it before me.  How else could he possibly know how to be with me in such a sweet and intimate way, if he had not traveled the road of pain and suffering himself?  God, the Lord Almighty, was right there with me.  Right in the middle of the pain and the tears and the struggle and the mess, giving me his strength and his comfort and his healing and his presence and his tears and his love, when I could not possibly find them on my own.  What a gift!

So just remember, the next time the earth does give way and the mountains do fall into the heart of the sea, God is not far off, but is right in the midst of it.  The next time you do get a no from God, do not let it shake your faith, for even if he is not giving you what you are asking for, he is giving you himself.  He is with you, loving you and caring for you and holding you and comforting you and strengthening you, and yes, transforming you more and more into the beautiful creation he dreamt you to be.  So stand firm, he's got this.  Better yet, he's got you.

Friday, October 5, 2018

mud


So my yard is a disaster right now.  My neighbor, Charlie, and I own a pond that lies between our two houses.  When we bought the house 17 years ago the pond had just been built, and looked wonderful.  But through the years the water level and quality diminished, and it just turned into a mucky, marshy mess that is impossible to maintain.  Anytime you try to mow or weed-eat you sink up to your knees in mud.  So after fighting a courageous battle--spanning roughly 15 years and a couple of different next door neighbors--I finally gave up.

That was until Charlie moved in next door.  I could just see it in his eyes every time he looked at it.  Only a shell of its former self, the pond had, for the most part, turned into nothing but a bog.  But when he looked at it, he saw something different altogether.  Because he saw it, not for its problems, but for its possibilities, which I had lost sight of long ago.  All I carried around was a distant memory of what it once looked like, and an unwillingness to go to the expense, or the trouble, of trying to make it beautiful again.

So a week or so ago Charlie came over as I was mowing my front yard and told me about his vision for the "pond."  He was so excited as he tried to give me a little glimpse of the beautiful picture that lived inside his head and heart.  And, to be honest, I was reluctant.  Captured by his energy and enthusiasm, but reluctant nonetheless.  I think I had just settled.  Sadly content to allow that part of our property to always be less than what it could be; mostly because I didn't want to go through the fuss and the muss that it would take to make it something better.

Well, long story short, two days ago the project began.  And as it has unfolded, I have been totally overwhelmed by the mess it has made.  I do not know what I thought it would look like to undertake a project of this magnitude, but I certainly didn't expect this.  I mean, my yard, which I have always prided myself in maintaining, is a disaster area--not to mention the three beautiful azalea bushes that were some of the early victims of the carnage.

All I can see is the mud.  Everywhere!  But when Charlie comes down, and takes it all in, it is always with a smile on his face, because he doesn't just see the mud, he sees the potential.  He sees the possibilities.  He doesn't just see what it is right now, he lives with a vision in his mind about what it will someday become.  And I really love (and long for) that.

There are several areas of life for me right now that are very similar--firmly in process.  They are muddy and messy and unfinished  And it is really easy in those areas to only see the mud and not to see the beauty of what someday will be.  I think I need to learn a lesson from my neighbor, Charlie, and not get so overwhelmed by the way things look right now, but to be guided by a bigger, more beautiful vision.  A vision that is able to see past the mud and the mess and the madness, to the magnificence of the dream that God is dreaming for me.

Tuesday, October 2, 2018

listen to him

While he was speaking, a bright cloud enveloped them and a voice from the cloud said, "This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.  Listen to him!" (Matthew 17:5)


Listen to him!  What great words.  What a great answer to anyone who might come our direction for wisdom or advice: Listen to him!  Don't listen to me.

But all too often, my pride--or my insecurity, it's hard to tell which--enters in and I feel like I actually have got something of value to say.  The only problem is that whoever is sitting, or standing, before me at the moment doesn't need what I've got to say.  What they really need is what He has to say.  So the best answer I could possibly give is: Listen to him!

Several years ago I was at a major decision point in my life.  And as I sought God for clarity, I was really torn as to what I should do.  The stakes felt really high.  Saying yes to the opportunity in front of me would mean a major disruption for my family--moving, changing schools, etc.  I went back and forth; one day I would feel one way and the next day, the other.  I was in agony.  Luckily a dear friend and wise mentor was coming to town for a visit, and I thought surely he could help me figure it all out.  Yet when I asked him what I should do, he very wisely said, "I have the utmost confidence in your ability to hear God in the matter."  Or, in other words, "Listen to him!"  The exact words I needed to hear.

Henri Nouwen once said: "The loud, boisterous noises of the world make us deaf to the soft, gentle, and loving voice of God.  A Christian leader is called to help people to hear that voice and to be comforted and consoled."

As leaders we are NOT called to tell people what to do.  Rather, we are called to tell people to get away from the noise and chaos, to retreat into silence and solitude, and then to simply Listen to him!

Wednesday, September 26, 2018

hidden

hidden
stay hidden
that is what
i want for you
that is what
will produce
the most fruit
in your heart
and soul

your flesh
will want to do
just the opposite
your false self
will want to
clamor for attention
and notoriety

don not listen to it
instead listen to me
and you will live
the way up
is the way down
embrace it

Monday, September 24, 2018

will you?

          Will you?

Will you use your gift today?
Will you give the world
that thing that no one else
in all of creation can give?

Will you be yourself,
and give yourself,
the way God designed you to?

If you do not,
then no one else can.
If you do, 
then we will all
be richer as a result.

So what will it be?
Will you use your gift today?

Saturday, September 22, 2018

spiritual disciplines

Stay clear of silly stories that get dressed up as religion.  Exercise daily in God—no spiritual flabbiness, please!  Workouts in the gymnasium are useful, but a disciplined life in God is far more so, making you fit both today and forever. (1 Timothy 4:7-8, The Message)

Spiritual disciplines are not just things to do, but things to do that help us to be.  They are not an end in themselves, but intended to make time and space for God to make us come alive inside.  In that old familiar story in Luke 10:38-42 about Mary and Martha, we are told that Mary sat at the Lord's feet, listening to what he said.  Those are spiritual disciplines.  Sitting and listening are things we can do that actually help us to be more and more who God intended us to be.  And in that classic Psalm about God as our Shepherd, we are told that he makes me lie down in green pastures and leads me beside quiet waters.  Again, spiritual disciplines.  Lying down in green pastures and being led beside quiet waters have a particular effect on our souls—they restore them.  So pay careful attention to the things that create life within you, and figure out how to intentionally make those things a part of your daily rhythm.  Not for the purpose of duty and obligation, but so your soul and spirit will be alive and vibrant—open and receptive to God's voice and God’s movement within you.

Wednesday, September 19, 2018

in

So then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live in him, rooted and built up in him, strengthened in the faith as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness. (Colossians 2:6-7)

Thomas Merton once wrote that “Some people live for God, some people live with God, and some people live in God.”  Now, the for and the with are great, don’t get me wrong, but living in Christ should be the goal of us all.  And, as Paul so clearly states in these verses, living in Christ is his chief desire for us.  And not only living in Christ, but living continuously in Christ.  That is the key to life in the Spirit—continual union with God in Christ.  For if we continue to live in him, we will be rooted and built up in him, strengthened in our faith and overflowing with thanksgiving.  I don’t know about you, but that’s the kind of life I’m looking for.


Live your life in me today, Lord Jesus, that I might live my life in you.  Amen.

Monday, September 10, 2018

narrative

beneath 
every behavior
lies a goal

and beneath
every goal
lies a belief

and beneath 
every belief
lies a narrative

a story 
that fuels us
that sets our feet
in motion

a story
we tell ourselves
that makes us
believe certain 
things are true

the problem is
that often they
are not

come Lord Jesus
way, truth, and life
and tell us 
the real story
the truth 
that will set us free

Thursday, September 6, 2018

silence

there is a pattern
woven into the
fabric of creation

first silence
then God speaks
and finally
things are set
into motion

why then
do we so often
start with action
rather than silence

action taken
without silence
is action taken
out of context

words spoken
without silence
are words spoken
out of context

for God alone
my soul waits
in silence

may that be true
of me today
O Lord

Saturday, September 1, 2018

blessed


Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth. Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled. Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy. Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God. Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God. Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. (Matthew 5:3-12, ESV)


Blessed are those who are not full of themselves, for then there is room within them for the kingdom of God.  Blessed are those who groan over things not being as they were intended to be, for one day they will be made whole again.  Blessed are those who do not need to draw attention to themselves, for with no need to compare or compete, they make this world a better place.  Blessed are those who long to be more like Jesus, for he is the only one who can fill them up.  Blessed are those whose hearts go out to those around them, for, because of that, God’s heart goes out to them.  Blessed are those who remain untainted by the world around them, for, with less to distort their vision, they will have a clearer view of God.  Blessed are those who bring harmony to all of creation, for they resemble their heavenly Father.  Blessed are those the world puts down because they are so full of light, for their very lives constantly convict those walking in darkness.

Wednesday, August 29, 2018

ever-present

God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble. (Psalm 46:1)

It is such a beautiful thing that God is ever-present to us.  Thus, we never have to live in fear, even if the earth gives way or the mountains fall into the heart of the sea.  Regardless of what happens to us, around us, or even within us, God is always right there.  He is with us in ways we cannot even imagine.  How incredibly comforting that is!  I can't imagine any other way that we could possibly be still and know he is God apart from that wonderful truth.

Our problem, however, does not come with God being ever-present to us, but with us being ever-present to him.  That is our challenge.  For if he is present to us, but we are not present to him, what good does that really do?  How can that give us any sense of peace, or comfort, or even help?  Don't get me wrong, God is not dependent on us in any way, shape, or form, in order to move and to act, but he wants more for us than that.  For if we are not aware of him moving and acting, then we have missed a great gift.  In fact, we are still at the mercy of our surroundings, or emotions, our moods, and our circumstances.  If, however, we are ever-present to him, as he is ever-present to us, that changes everything.

In order for us to live life the way He intended it to be lived, we must learn how to be ever-present to God.  And maybe the words of this ancient prayer offer us just the help we need.  "God is our refuge and strength, and ever-present help in trouble." If we plant these twelve words in our hearts, and repeat them over and over again with our mouths and in our minds (the scriptures call this meditation), they can function as a sweet companion throughout the day, helping us to be constantly connected and aware of the God we so often forget.  Give it a try today and tell me how it goes.

Saturday, August 25, 2018

gold

This is so good.  If you are looking for a great read, here it is: Clinging
One of the worst looking covers I have ever seen, but an incredible book.  Here's a taste:

     For each of us the way lies straight ahead.  There is, immediately in front of us, an assigned task, a call: some difficult, clear, utterly simple thing the Lord is asking us to do.  It is not a general admonition to whoever might happen to be standing about.  It is instead an utterly private request whispered, as it were, into each one’s ear.  What the Lord is asking me, He is asking no one else.  More than likely, it is a request with no particular glamour or notoriety attached to it.  And if I pay attention, the Lord leaves me in no doubt about it.  Especially if I ask in prayer, He tells me very clearly. (Which is why, sometimes, I don’t hurry to find out.)

     And I cannot accomplish this thing God asks without grace.  The call, this request is completely beyond my grasp, quite impossible—without His help.  Yet even as He asks it, He makes it clear that His grace will be poured out.  He will not leave me abandoned or alone.  He does not ask the impossible.  Our God does not play tricks.  Or, to put it another way, when He asks the impossible, we remember that nothing is impossible with God.

     But why are we surprised by this?  We knew from the beginning that prayer would bring us closer to the mind of God, more able to know His thoughts and do His will.  We knew that, yet when by a kind of radar we sense it, when we feel ourselves being moved and led in a given direction, we feel awe, we are afraid.  Afraid perhaps that we are acting, actors in a drama we did not design.  Somehow the story has been set in motion and the characters are mainly two: God and I.  It is a dance!  It is a suspense story.  It is leading to an unknown destination.  It is once-upon-a-time, and now, and what-is-yet-to-be, all at once.  It is now and forever, and yet it is not a dream.  It is happening and it is real.

     And now there is no turning back.  The commitment has already been made: The escalator is ascending, the elevator door is closing, the plane is moving down the runway.  Something very definite has been set in motion, is gathering momentum, is picking up speed.  It seems we can hardly stop now, especially when the journey is starting to get interesting!  Even so, we are fearful.  Now that the cabin door is closed and the motors are revving, the shudder and the trembling are perhaps not so exhilarating as we had thought.

     Yet, we have signed on for this.  We are here by our own consent.  Even if there should be pain interwoven with this commitment, some intimation of suffering to come, there is, at the very same time, a knowing—we know Who it is that’s asking and this intimate sense of a God who loves us is present even when He is leading us into the furnace or the deep.  Our God will not betray us.  He is just and fair and tender.  He does not forget us in the time of trouble, He that keeps Israel does not slumber or sleep.

     So we go on, straight ahead, with no more sense of direction than just to make the next step and the next.  We are not out to make high jumps, to take the next three steps at a time.  There is no longer much question of spiritual ambition or advancing in prayer.  We have no sense of height.  We can’t tell whether or not we are ascending.  If we are climbing (and we are), we sense that only in our muscles and bones.  The climb is costly.  But it does not feel upward.  It is not high.  It is neither consolation nor desolation.

     It is ascent, but not ecstasy.  In a sense, it is deeper than ecstasy, or perhaps one could call it the ecstasy of every day, a union that continues while everything else is also happening, existing within whatever activities are necessary, an abandonment known only to us and God, ecstatic only in that it is so very complete.

     This abandonment is the very heart and essence of Christian prayer, and it has nothing in common with strategy and second-guessing.  It is the pray-to-win mentality turned inside out, and yet it is not s pray-to-lose mentality.  It is the prayer that has moved beyond intending, directing, steering, second-guessing God.  It is the dancer moving completely in the rhythm of the partner, prayer that is utterly freeing because it is completely at one.  Utterly beyond asking, beyond the anger that rattles heaven’s gate.  Prayer that does not plead, wants nothing for itself but what God wants, it is the will-not-to-will, rooted in grace, that makes it possible to be abandoned, free, and then (by some further miracle) able to act with a semblance of coherence and freedom even when completely surrendered to and possessed by the loving will of God. (Clinging by Emilie Griffin)