Friday, August 31, 2018

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



Thursday, July 12, 2018

absorbed

But make sure that you don’t get so absorbed and exhausted in taking care of all your day-by-day obligations that you lose track of the time and doze off, oblivious to God. The night is about over, dawn is about to break. Be up and awake to what God is doing! God is putting the finishing touches on the salvation work he began when we first believed. We can’t afford to waste a minute, must not squander these precious daylight hours in frivolity and indulgence, in sleeping around and dissipation, in bickering and grabbing everything in sight. Get out of bed and get dressed! Don’t loiter and linger, waiting until the very last minute. Dress yourselves in Christ, and be up and about! ~Romans 13:11-14, The Message


Absorbed.  Ouch!  Hits me right between the eyes.  If I am honest, I have to admit that not a day goes by when it doesn't happen to me.  At some point each day (or multiple points each day) I get so caught up in what's either in front of me, or ahead of me, that I lose touch entirely with God's presence within me, and what he is doing around me.  I don't know that I would have called it dozing off, because it appears so active.  But that's exactly what it is.  It is getting so consumed with myself, and my agenda, that I fall asleep on God.  I get distracted and sidetracked by the things on my list and fail to even ask what might be on his.  I think that's probably the definition of absorbed.

So how do I combat this tendency?  How do I wake up to God and fall asleep to myself?  How can I be up and awake to what God is doing?  I think the answer is easy; and really hard.  I pay attention.  I begin my day with God and I set alarms within my day that will bring my heart and my soul and my mind back to God in case I fall asleep.  I set something on my phone or I stick something in my car to remind me of his love and his presence.  I plant a word or a phrase or a psalm in my heart and let it take root there for the day.  I remember it every time it comes to mind, and recite it to myself.  I say the words of the ancient prayer and listen for the prayer of God that rises in my heart.  I set concrete times within the day where I will stop and return to him, just as the saints and poets and pilgrims have been doing for centuries.  I frame my day with the prayer; the prayers the Church has been praying since the beginning of time.  For this is not a new problem. 

And if I do all of that then maybe, just maybe, when I lay my head on my pillow at night, I will be able to smile. I will think back and be grateful for an awareness of God's presence and his work that has helped me to align myself more and more with his will rather than just my own.    





Sunday, July 8, 2018

thanks

Shout for joy to the Lord all the earth.  Worship the Lord with gladness; come before him with joyful songs.  Know that the Lord is God.  It is he who made us, and we are his; we are his people, the sheep of his pasture.  Enter his gates with thanksgiving and his courts with praise; give thanks to him and praise his name.  For the Lord is good and his love endures forever; his faithfulness continues to all generations. (Psalm 100:1-5)

So, Psalm 100 is my psalm for the day.  As a matter of fact, it has been my Sunday psalm for a couple of months now.  Little did I know that it would be the Psalm for my birthday.  My 58th, to be exact.  And I can't think of a more appropriate prayer for this day.  My friend Robert always says, before he starts reading a psalm, "Listen to the words of the ancient prayer and listen for the prayer of God that rises in your heart."  Well, this psalm IS the prayer of God that rises in my heart today.  I am so incredibly grateful, so glad.  I'm so grateful for 58 years of life and love.  So grateful for 36 (in August) years of marriage to my best friend and the love of my life!  So grateful for my three incredible (grown) children and my one wonderful daughter-in-law.  So grateful for deep and wonderful friendships.  So grateful for the opportunity to make a living doing the things I love the most.  So grateful for the sweet (and totally undeserved) way that God continues to draw me further and further into his great heart of love.  If all of that doesn't make a person "shout for joy" and "worship the Lord with gladness" nothing will.

Friday, July 6, 2018

wait

waiting is a funny thing
on the one hand
when we are made to wait
it feels like we are wasting time
but on the other
it is not the wasting of time at all
but the ripening of it

waiting accomplishes something
a hidden agenda
divine purposes
a growing and readying
a preparation for the time
when all will be right
for the unveiling of all
that has been taking place
in the dark and fertile soil
of our becoming

waiting for the Lord
does not mean
trying to figure out
what we can do
while we wait
it just means waiting
thus there is no wait and
only wait alone
when we add the and
we stop waiting altogether

who knows
maybe God is trying
to get us to the end of ourselves
for we typically only wait
as a last resort
after we have
exhausted all other
alternatives

wouldn't it be great
if somehow we learned
to wait first
rather than immediately
spring into action
for if we were to do that
it seems like
we would save ourselves
a lot of wasted motion

Wednesday, July 4, 2018

bothered



Now when Mary came to where Jesus was and saw him, she fell at his feet, saying to him, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who had come with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in his spirit and greatly troubled. And he said, “Where have you laid him?” They said to him, “Lord, come and see.” Jesus wept. So the Jews said, “See how he loved him!” But some of them said, “Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man also have kept this man from dying?” Then Jesus, deeply moved again, came to the tomb. (John 11:32-38)



It is hard to read John 11 and not get the impression—especially when you study the words carefully—that Jesus was bothered.  Oh sure, he was heartbroken.  He was moved to tears by all of the pain and suffering he witnessed around him, especially the sorrow of his dear friends, Mary and Martha.  I believe it was the tears of these beloved sisters than moved him to tears himself.

But there is something more going on here.  Jesus was bothered.  You can especially see it in John’s use of the words “deeply moved” in verses 33 and 38.  On the surface they look like nothing but sadness and sorrow, but underneath they communicate much more.  The word used here in the Greek is embrimaomai, which literally means “to snort in indignation.”  Jesus was indignant.  He was not pleased.  He was frustrated.  Or, at the very least, he was really, really bothered.  He was bothered to see his friends in great pain.  And he was bothered again when the some of the onlookers said, “Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man also have kept this man from dying?”

I guess the real question is: What, exactly, was Jesus bothered by?  Was he bothered by the lack of faith being exhibited around him?  Was he bothered by the way it caused those around him to question the goodness of his heart?  Or was he bothered by the fact that "it didn’t have to be this way?"  This (a world of death and suffering) was never his intention in the first place.  And, who knows, maybe it was all of the above.  All we do know is that Jesus was bothered.  And you know what?  I’m glad.  Something deep within me wants a God who is bothered by death and suffering and sorrow and pain.  I think being bothered is a necessary component of compassion.

You see, compassion is not just pity, or even empathy.  Compassion is to be lovingly bothered.  It is to love someone enough to be deeply affected by their hurt and pain, but also to be bothered enough to do something about it.  To enter in somehow.  Compassion is love in action.  And it is the “bothered” part that keeps us from merely being heartbroken for someone, and moves us to action.  Compassion, as it was in this case for Jesus, hates the effects of the fall, and moves in the direction of trying to reverse them (with God’s help) whenever possible.  It is not merely being grieved about the world, but also being willing to do something about it.  Jesus was filled with compassion, and wants us to be as well.  What are you bothered about these days?  How has it moved you toward loving action?

Lord Jesus, forgive me when I am not bothered by what I see around me and within me.  Thank you that you were bothered; bothered enough to get involved in offering people the healing and the wholeness they desperately needed.  Help me to do the same.  Amen.

Thursday, June 28, 2018

dwell in the land

Trust in the Lord and do good; dwell in the land and enjoy safe pasture.  Delight yourself in the Lord and he will give you the desires of your heart.  (Psalm 37:3-4)


The land that we are in, is the land that we are in; there is not much we can do to change it.  What we can change is how we choose to dwell in that land.  We can fret and worry and brood and be frustrated, or we can trust and enjoy and delight and commit.  We can try, in futility, to change (or fight) our circumstances, or we can embrace them and change our mindset instead.

The words of this ancient prayer are our invitation to do just that.  Eugene Peterson says that, "The Psalms train us in the conversation with God that is prayer."  They help us to become all that God desires us to be.  So if we take these words and bury them deep in our hearts and souls, and utter them often from our lips, they will begin to take shape and produce fruit within us.  They will actually begin to do what they say.

In them we will begin to hear the whisper of the One who made us saying: "Stop fretting and simply enjoy the place where I have put you.  You cannot escape it, you might as well embrace it.  Delight in me, as I delight in you.  Trust me with all that is on your plate and all that is in your heart.  I will carry it so that you don't have to.  Calm and quiet your soul, even in the midst of the chaos, and find your rest in me."


Believe in the Eternal and do what is good--live in the land He provides; roam, and rest in God's faithfulness. Take great joy in the Eternal! His gifts are coming, and they are all your heart desires. (Psalm 37:3-4, The Voice)

Tuesday, June 26, 2018

shame and self-contempt

To you, O Lord, I lift up my soul; in you I trust, O my God.  Do not let me be put to shame, nor let my enemies triumph over me.  No one whose hope is in you, O Lord, will ever be put to shame. (Psalm 25:1-3, NIV)


Make no mistake about it, the battle against shame and self-contempt is never-ending.  Their continual assault on our hearts and souls will never stop, at least this side of heaven.  Because shame and self-contempt are two of the main weapons the enemy uses to triumph over those of us who struggle through life on a regular basis.  The reason they are so effective is that, to a large degree, they are unrecognized.  Somehow the enemy has convinced us that the voices we hear, telling us how miserable and worthless we are, come from ourselves rather than from him.  What a brilliant strategy—to turn us against ourselves.  Which then leads to further shame and self-contempt.  It is a never-ending downward spiral.

That’s why I find so much comfort in the first few verses of Psalm 25.  The words of this ancient prayer give me hope that this battle can—and will—be won.  They also give me help in the fighting of this battle.  The words of Psalm 25 give me weapons to use when I feel overwhelmed, beaten up, and defeated.  They empower me when it feels like I am at the mercy of forces far greater and more powerful than I.

All I have to do is use them—by praying them.  All I have to do is recognize the strategy of the enemy, lift my soul to the Lord, and trust in him rather than trusting in myself, or the world around me to tell me who I am and what I am worth.  To you, O Lord, I lift up my soul.  In you I trust, O my God.  When I lift my soul to the Lord, and trust only in my God, then shame and self-contempt begin to lose their grip on me.  Then I am free to be the person that God created me to be.  Thanks be to God!

Help us, O Lord, to lift our souls to you.  Help us, this day, to walk in the truth of your love rather than the lies of the enemy.  Amen.


Sunday, June 24, 2018

how to listen

butt in seat
turn off phone
quiet the noise
come to stillness
pay attention
open ears
wait
wait
wait

Tuesday, June 19, 2018

the death of i

     Jesus replied, "The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified.  I tell you the truth, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed.  But if it dies, it produces many seeds.  The man who loves his life in this world will lose it, while the man who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life.  Whoever serves me must follow me; and where I am, my servant will also be.  My Father will honor the one who serves me.
     "Now my heart is troubled, and what shall I say? 'Father, save me from this hour'?  No, it was for this very reason I came to this hour.  Father, glorify your name!" (John 12:23-28)


to live in the i
is to never become
what we were
intended to be

the i must die
else there will
always be only
a single kernel

however if the i
falls to the ground
and dies
more is possible

the single kernel
becomes many seeds
death becomes
the avenue to new life

life that is about
more than just i

so let us learn
to die to i
that much more
might be born

for like jesus
this is why
we have come
to this very hour

now is the time
father glorify your name

Wednesday, June 6, 2018

context

here and now
is but a tiny speck
of beauty and struggle
in the ocean of eternity

thus the present moment
although pregnant with God
is but a small part
of an enormous whole
a tiny thread
in a grand tapestry
of life and love

no moment
or circumstance
or experience
can be understood
while separated
from the whole

every time
and every season
is only rightly seen
when taken in context

when viewed through
the lenses of
all God has done
and all that he
promises to do

in life and faith
context is everything




Friday, June 1, 2018

approval

approval
is an illusive creature
a mythical beast
that can never be fully captured
regardless of how continuous the pursuit

every time we think we have him
he somehow wiggles free from our grasp
and disappears from our sight once again
it is an exhausting pursuit
that never stops

for approval is a fleeting thing
sweet to the taste
but unsatisfying to the soul
it is turkish delight
all sugar and no substance

until given by the one
who made us and loves us
a free gift that cannot be
achieved or wrestled away
but only bestowed and received
when we are finally willing enough
or exhausted enough
to stop the chase and accept the gift
then and only then
will we find rest and peace







Saturday, May 26, 2018

loved

We love because he first loved us. ~1 John 4:19


There may be no more important verse in all of the scriptures than this one.  It lays the foundation for how everything else lines up.  It reminds us that the only way we can truly love God is to be completely captured and transformed by his love first.  Our love for God can never precede the reality (and experience) of our being loved by God.  For we can only love God—and others, for that matter—in direct proportion to how well we understand and experience the depths of being loved by him.  That is how our lives—and our souls—are designed to function.  We love because he first loved us; not, God loves us because we first loved him.  All too often we get it backwards.  Being loved always has to come first, otherwise we have no genuine love to offer others—only our desperate need to be loved.
  
Which begs the question: Do I love God because I have first been seized by the power of his Great Affection?  Do I love him because I am should, or do I love him because I do?  Is his love the driving force behind my life?  Is is—as J. B. Phillips once beautifully said—the “springboard of all my actions?”  Is his love the reason for my obedience?  Is his love the motivation for my service?  Is it the fuel for my ministry? 
   
We cannot start with loving God; we must start with being loved by God.  Until we begin to understand how deeply we are loved, we will never be able to love God in the way—and with the passion—he desires to be loved.  And we can never love others in a free, unconditional way.

Thursday, May 24, 2018

free

free
lord jesus
you make us free

free to love
rather than control or manipulate
free to give
rather than desperately grab
free to accept
rather than judge, mock, or criticize
free to let go
rather than hang on for dear life
free to be my true self
rather than some manufactured
or fabricated version
free to offer compassion
rather than compete for affection

ah free
what a great word


Wednesday, May 23, 2018

lay down your life

The laying down of a life (1 John 3:16) is a tall order; one that I’m not sure can be accomplished by grit and determination.  Because the laying down of a life—at least the laying down of it as Jesus calls us to—is not a one-time event, but a perpetual lifestyle.  I can’t consistently choose you over me on a regular basis; I need Divine assistance.  Only when I make this realization is it possible to make consistent progress in the direction of self-sacrifice.  I cannot make myself like Jesus, no matter how hard I try.  Only Jesus can make me like Jesus.  I must simply surrender myself to him and put myself in his hands.  He is my only hope of ever really living a life of laying down my life.  Which, in wild irony, is the only way to become my true self (by abandoning myself altogether).  Lord, have mercy.  Christ, have mercy.

O Jesus, I am so terrible at laying down my life.  It runs so against my nature.  Yet that is what you call me to.  Teach me to love like you.  Give me your heart.  Make your heart, my heart.  Amen.

Thursday, May 17, 2018

write me

O God
every day
and in every moment
you are writing
a beautiful story

give me the grace
and the patience
to let that story unfold
and not try to force
or manipulate it

help me
to not get in the way
and to not get in a hurry
but to wait on you

for only you
can tell me
my true place
in your grand design

my story is yours
O God
write me


Saturday, May 5, 2018

give

Now he who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will also supply and increase your store of seed and will enlarge your harvest of righteousness.  You will be made rich in every way so that you can be generous on every occasion, and through us your generosity will result in thanksgiving to God.  (2 Corinthians 9:10-11)

Giving is a little bit tricky.  Because, in reality, we can only give what we have been given.  If the sower is not given the seed in the first place, then he has nothing of value to sow in the fields (and the lives) to which he has been given.  Luckily, we are given the promise that if we are open and attentive to receiving it, there is One who is able and willing to supply, and even increase, this seed.

The problem is that, oftentimes, we try so hard to give that which we do not possess.  And when we do this, abundance simply will not happen.  We cannot produce abundance (an enlarged harvest of righteousness) on our own, no matter how hard we try.  We can only give--fully and freely--that which we have been given.  So it seems kind of important that we know exactly what that is.  For this seed wasn't given to us to hoard for ourselves, but to be scattered abroad in the fields of this world, that it might produce a harvest of righteousness.

O Lord, help me to learn to give fully and freely that which I have to give, and to stop trying so hard to give that which I don't.  

Saturday, April 28, 2018

transforming community

How good and pleasant it is when God’s people live together in unity! It is like precious oil poured on the head, running down on the beard, running down on Aaron’s beard, down on the collar of his robe. It is as if the dew of Hermon were falling on Mount Zion. For there the Lord bestows his blessing, even life forevermore. (Psalm 133:1-3, NIV)

     
When God’s people live together in true community there is a qualitative difference.  It is good and pleasant.  It is like precious oil poured on the head—fragrant, soothing, and healing.  It is like the dew of Hermon falling on Mount Zion—renewing, restoring, and life-giving.  It is the place where God’s blessing is poured out, and where life, as he intended it to be, is experienced first-hand. 
     
True community reverses the effects of the fall.  It is where we are able to go from “I was afraid because I was naked, so I hid” (Gen. 3:10) back to being “naked and unashamed.” (Gen. 2:25)  It is the place where we are able to recapture the intent of God’s “very good” creation.  Thus, it is no accident when King David—in Psalm 133:1—uses the same word (towb) to describe what happens when God’s people live together in unity that is used to describe the goodness of his original creation. (Gen. 1:4, 10, 12, 18, 21, 25, 31)  God’s desire for us is union, not isolation.  Union both with himself and with each other.
     
Unfortunately the leap from fear to love is a pretty big one.  Few seem willing to make it.  It is hard for us to muster the courage to come out of hiding, stop covering, and begin to relate to one another in loving vulnerability.  Paul put it so well in Romans 8:15 when he says, “For you did not receive a spirit that makes you a slave again to fear, but you received the Spirit of sonship.”  If we ever want to recapture the life of deep, true community that God desires for us—and that we desire for ourselves—we must choose to live in love, not in fear.  “For there is no fear in love.  But perfect love casts out fear.” (1 John 4:18)
    
So let us come out of hiding.  Let us truly show up and be fully present with each other.  Let us stop trying to fix and judge each other, and simply be with each other and listen to each other in love.  Let us open up, rather than covering up.  Maybe then we will start to live the life God really desires for us to live.  And it will be like precious oil.

Wednesday, April 25, 2018

stop

Stop!
Stop thinking it's all up to you.
Stop acting like it all depends on you.
Stop running around trying to manage and control everything.
Stop carrying the weight of the world on your shoulders.
Stop eating the bread of anxious toil.
Just stop!
Be still and know that I am God.




Stop us, O God, when we go running off in a-million-and-one directions instead of being still and quiet and allowing your voice to speak to us and direct us.  For when we do not stop, look, and listen, there’s a good chance we are following ourselves rather than following you.  Amen.

Friday, April 20, 2018

131

o lord
may my heart
never become
too proud
may my eyes
never be raised
too high

do not let me get
too full of myself
or take myself
too seriously

help me to stop
trying to be
such a big deal
but instead be
totally content
being a little deal
so that you
may be big

for only then
will my soul
be at rest
only then
will my heart
be still and quiet
only then
will i be able
to find myself
content in your
loving embrace
and out my hope
in you
instead of me

Thursday, April 19, 2018

must

If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. ~Luke 9:23


There is a must in the life of faith that is not fraught with guilt, not stuffed with ought and should. Instead, it is born out of affection and delight.  It is get to rather than have to.  It is pull rather than push.  It is not begrudging and coercive and forced, but a genuine expression of a heart that has been captured by love, the fruit of intimate union.  Thus, it cannot be quashed, contained, or subdued, but flows from our inner being like a river toward the sea.  It propels us into life with energy and vitality that mere duty cannot provide.  It does not beat us down or wear us out, but, by its very nature, reorders, renews, and transforms.

Somehow we must learn how to move from one must to the other.  The state of our lives, and our ministries, depend on it.  For our must will incarnate itself in one form or another.  It can take the shape of joy and peace and gratitude, or it can take the form of gloom and sadness and despair.  Which do you think Jesus would prefer? 

O Lord Jesus, help us live our lives like you did, by the must of love.

Monday, April 16, 2018

one thing

one thing
is needed
one thing
you still lack
one thing
i will seek

if this life
is meant
to be about
one thing

then why
do i seem
to miss
the point
so often

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

walk

This is what the Lord says: "Stand at the crossroads and look, ask for the ancient paths, ask where the good way is, and walk in it, and you will find rest for your souls.  But you said, 'We will not walk in it.'" (Jeremiah 6:16)

Walking is essential in the life of faith, there are no two ways about it.  It is impossible to follow Jesus without walking.  Thus, it is not intention that counts, but action.  Intention is meaningless without movement.  The best made plans are worthless without us eventually putting one foot in front of the other and beginning to move in the direction of our hopes and dreams.  The desire for a deeper, more intimate life with God will never be realized unless we take that step to make time and space to pray.  Wanting to pray isn't the end, praying is.  The path is only traveled by walking it.  So let's get a move on.  Even as we continue to stand and look and ask (as Jeremiah has told us), let us figure out what walking in the good way looks like today.  And then let us walk.  Obedience is the process by which intention becomes reality.

Tuesday, April 3, 2018

spiritual practice

As they talked and discussed these things with each other, Jesus himself came up and walked along with them; but they were kept from recognizing him. (Luke 24:15-16)


Never underestimate the value of spiritual practice in life with God.  We are not told exactly what kept the disciples from being able to recognize Jesus.  Maybe it was the chaos of the last few days, maybe it was all that was swimming around in their hearts and minds at the moment, or maybe it was something bigger than that.  Who knows?  But we are told what helped them to finally realize who it was that stood before them--the breaking of the bread.  Spiritual Practice.

Spiritual practice is the thing that keeps us rooted and attentive and aware.  It keeps us awake and alert and open to God, and whatever he might be up to at any given moment.  It is not an end in itself, but is a necessary means to a beautiful end--union with the God who made us uniquely and loves us dearly.  Spiritual practice is not meant to manipulate, control, or manufacture.  It is merely something that makes space within us and among us, so that when Jesus finally does come up and walk along with us, we will actually be able to recognize him.

Yet somehow, given the demands of this life, it is something that is easily pushed aside.  And when it is, it makes us less and less able to notice the One who walks among us.  That is probably why John Wesley once wrote: "O Begin!  Fix some part of every day for the private exercises.  You may acquire the taste which you have not: what is tedious at first will afterward be pleasant.  Whether you like it or not, read and pray daily.  It is for your life; there is no other way: else you will be a trifler all your days."

Monday, April 2, 2018

through the tears

woman, why are you crying
who is it you are looking for
~john 20:15

sometimes
the pain of the cross
so blinds our eyes
that we cannot see
the resurrection
standing right in front of us

we become 
so consumed with
our sorrow and sadness
that we forget
for a second
or a season
that this life
is not about us

o god
give us the grace
to look beyond the tears
and find you


Saturday, March 31, 2018

holy saturday

But they rested on the Sabbath in obedience to the commandment. (Luke 23:56)

We make a great mistake if we skip over Holy Saturday in anticipation of Easter Sunday; for there is great care and intention in the timing of it all.  Space and time for rest and reflection are such necessary parts of the spiritual journey--and ones that are often neglected.  How can we possibly hope to grasp the depths and the beauty of what God is up to if we don't make time and space to consider it?  The fact is that God does some of his very best work when it appears that nothing is going on, and if we are not paying careful attention we are likely to miss it.  So let us make time and space this day for rest and reflection, knowing full well that God is up to something even in (and especially in) the in-between times.

Friday, March 30, 2018

good friday

you took up
our calamity
you carried
the heavy burden
of our pain
you were nailed through
for our rebellion
you were beaten to pieces
for our perversion
the many blows
that brought us wholeness
were reigned down upon you
you were torn apart
that we might be
sewn back together
by your wounds
we are healed
that is what makes
this friday good

Wednesday, March 28, 2018

dying to self

"I tell you the truth, when you were younger you dressed yourself and went where you wanted; but when you are old you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will dress you and lead you where you do not want to go."  Jesus said this to indicate the kind of death by which Peter would glorify God.  Then he said, "Follow me!" (John 21:18-19)

We try to control everything, don’t we?  Even our dying.  So when Jesus calls us to die to self, we immediately spring into action and start trying to figure out how we can do that.  The problem is that we are the ones trying to figure it out.  Thus, we are the ones trying to choose (or control) how and when and where we will do this.  Which is actually is a large part of our problem  
    
Apparently, as you can see in this interaction with Simon Peter, we do not get a say in that process.  God does not ask for our vote and then act accordingly.  Dying to self is all about surrender, not control.  Therefore, he is the one who gets to determine what this dying needs to look like, as he did with Jesus.
    
Dying to self—as modeled by Jesus—is neither selective nor discriminating.  I do not get to choose who or whether, the call to “Follow me” takes all judgment and discretion out of my hands.  Mine is just to die and to die and to die again.  Not out of begrudging obedience, but out of the deepest possible affection.  That is the goal—loving submission to whatever God desires.


Thank you, Lord Jesus, for showing us what dying to self really looks like.  May we be more like you today.  Amen.

Monday, March 26, 2018

glorify your name

"Now my soul is troubled, and what shall I say?  'Father, save me from this hour'? No, it is for this very reason that I came to this hour.  Father, glorify your name!" (John 12:27-28)


Here is the true lesson of prayer: life is not about us. 

It is so tempting, as we pray, to ask God to save us from this hour, whatever this hour may be.  To pray that God would deliver us from the hard things of this life.  But Jesus does not do this.  In fact, he does just the opposite.  If the hard things are the things that are apt to glorify God the most, then by all means bring them on.  God's glory is the point, not our comfort.

It would be wise of me to learn this lesson as well.  I need not to pray that God would take away my suffering, or make my circumstances better, or easier.  I need to pray that He would be glorified, whatever it takes, whatever the cost.  Holy Week is evidence that it is the most difficult things of this life that tend to bring the most glory to God.  Maybe that is because it is so easy to glorify ourselves when things are going well.

So next time my soul is troubled, what will I say?  Will I say, "Lord save me from this hour," or will I say, "Glorify your name!

Sunday, March 25, 2018

palm sunday 2018

o jesus
as holy week begins
i find myself
anxious and afraid
of all that will
be required of me
in the days ahead

help me
lord jesus
to not just focus
on the dying
but also on
the being raised
to new life

help me to
always remember
that in the end
life wins

Tuesday, March 20, 2018

strongholds

For though we live in the world, we do not wage war as the world does.  The weapons we fight with are no the weapons of the world.  On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds.  we demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ. (2 Corinthians 10:3-5)


I used to think that strongholds were certain behaviors that I just could not overcome.  But now that I'm a little older, I think it goes way deeper than that.  Sure the behaviors are destructive, and not at all what God wants for me, but the real problem lies underneath.  For underneath every behavior is a goal, and under every goal is a belief.  And every belief is fueled by a narrative.  If we are willing to dig down far enough, we will eventually uncover the reason for the behavior, and the narrative that fuels it.  If we truly desire to change; if we truly desire to eliminate the dysfunctional behavior, we cannot merely cut it off at the surface (for it will eventually grow back), we must uproot it completely.  We must uncover the narrative that lies underneath.  That is the stronghold. 

In order to destroy the strongholds in my life, I cannot just decide to behave differently.  I don't know about you, but I've tried that over and over and over again.  It just doesn't work--at least not for long.  Real change comes when I begin to change the way I think.  I must uncover the narratives that drive me to certain behaviors, and then I must make space and time for the Spirit of God to reveal the truth, which sets me free. I must change my narratives in order to change (long term) my behavior. 

That's where the taking every thought captive to make it obedient to Christ comes in.  I must dig down to what I really believe, to the narrative that I am allowing to guide my thinking, and hold it up to the light, to the truth of Christ--the narratives of Jesus.  For only then will I be able to know what the truth really is.  And only then will that truth be able to set me free.

Sunday, March 18, 2018

will you really

will you really
lay down your life
for me

will you really
lay aside
all privilege
and power
and preference

will you really
place yourself
totally and unreservedly
in my hands

will you really
empty yourself
of self
that you might
be full of me

will you really
surrender all
that you have
and all
that you are
to my rule
and my care

will you really

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

trust me

dear jim

here is what
you need to do today

hold all things loosely
and cling to me tightly

i got this

love
jesus

Monday, March 12, 2018

simon of cyrene

as they were
going out
they met a man
from cyrene
named simon
and they
forced him
to carry the cross
matthew 27:32


sometimes we don't
have a choice
whether we will carry
the cross or not

it is simply
forced upon us

but we do always
have a choice
as to how
we will carry it

and that choice
can make all the difference

Thursday, March 8, 2018

liturgy

So I spent a weekend with some wonderful folks in Geneva, IL a couple of weeks ago.  And it was delightful.  They were all a part of the body of believers that gather at Saint Mark's Episcopal Church, or "Saint Markers," as they affectionately call themselves.

Saint Mark's is an extraordinary place, with sacred worship spaces, warm and inviting people, a deep and rich communal life, and a beautiful and thoughtful liturgy.  I had been to a few Anglican and Episcopal churches before, so the dance that I saw (and had the privilege of entering into) at Saint Mark's was not totally new to me, but one I don't often get to enjoy.  There was a sense of awe and wonder and reverence at Saint Mark's that I have not often experienced in my forty-one years of following Jesus.  We stood and we sang and we knelt and we prayed.  We bowed and we read and we listened and we passed the peace.  And at the very center of it all was the Cross of Christ and the Table of our Lord.  We came to the rail and knelt at the altar and opened our hands to receive the Body and drink the Blood and remember the death of our Savior; and thus enter into the mysteries of the Holy Sacrament.  It was rich and wonderful time.

It got me thinking about liturgy in general, and how each of us has the opportunity, if not the obligation, to write our own, both for ourselves and for our own communities of faith.  We are the ones--with God's help and guidance--who get to determine what we will do in our worship.  We get the privilege and the responsibility to listen closely to God, and to how he made us, and to craft a liturgy that makes us alive and vibrant as we live our lives with, for, and before him.  We get to decide what best expresses our worship and adoration.  We get to decide when we will kneel and when we will pray.  We get to determine when (or if) we will sing and when we will dance.  We get to be the artists of this incredible masterpiece of worship; all aimed at glorifying the One who breathed us into being.  We are the ones who are given the freedom to decide what our lives--both together and separately--will look like.  Oh, it might not look exactly like it does at Saint Mark's, but it will be a beautiful and thoughtful and intentional expression of who God made us to be.  So let's pick up that pen and start writing.

Friday, March 2, 2018

the hard way

narrow is the gate
and hard is the way
that leads to life
and those who
find it are few
(matthew 7:14)

there is a gate
and then a way
let us not
confuse the two

we enter
by the narrow gate
and then travel
the hard way
that leads to life

sometimes
i suppose
we are noble enough
or brave enough
or crazy enough
to actually choose
this hard way

but sometimes
the hard way
chooses us
we are neither asked
nor consulted

and when it does
choose us
there is no escape
there is only
a choice
to resist or embrace
the way upon which
we find ourselves
traveling

resisting
leads to anger
and bitterness
and embracing
leads to life
which will i choose
i choose life

Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Journey to the Cross



If you are looking for a companion for Lent (for yourself, your family, your friends, your staff, etc.), my Lenten devotional guide Journey to the Cross is available on Amazon.  Spread the word.  This year, Lent begins on February 14 (Ash Wednesday).

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

i see you

I have a friend who used to play high school football for the team I have been fortunate enough to hang out with for the past fifteen years.  Back in his day, one of his favorite phrases to repeat during practice, as he tried to encourage his teammates who were working hard but not getting much recognition, was, "I see you."  He would see a young defensive back do something that helped the team in a hidden sort of way and say, "I see you, Dom.  I see you."  And it never failed to bring a smile to the face of the one who was seen.

We all long to be seen.  We all long for someone to look our way, look deeply into our hearts and souls, and say, "I see you."  It does something wonderful within us. 

Jesus was a master at seeing people.  Everywhere he went he saw people; really saw them.  Not just their outward appearance, but way down into their hearts.  He knew oh so well how deeply we all long to be really seen and really known.  So he took time to see people, and to let them know they were seen.  Whether a woman at a well, or a man by a pool, or a bunch of brand new disciples who had just started to follow him, he saw them all.  And he let them know that.

And he sees you.  Wherever you are.  Whatever is going on in your life right now.  Whatever the state of your heart and soul.  Whatever your level of loneliness or desperation or pain, he sees you.  And he wants you to know that.  You are not alone.  He is with you.  He loves you.  He sees you.

Sunday, February 18, 2018

they make it

Blessed are those whose strength is in you, who have set their hearts on pilgrimage.  As they pass through the Valley of Weeping they make it a place of springs; the autumn rains also cover it with pools.  They go from strength to strength until each appears before God in Zion. ~Psalm 84:5-6


It appears that this pilgrimage we have set our hearts on, this journey through the Valley of Weeping to the place of springs and pools, is, to some degree, what we make of it.  Notice in the text that it is not God who makes one turn into the other, it is us.  "They make it a place of springs," says the psalmist.  It is those who travel the road who get to choose.  They determine how they will travel, and the attitude or perspective they will take as they do so.  I suppose they could weep and weep and weep as they travel along this highway.  Or they can simply choose to make it a place of springs.  They can choose to see it for what it is; an opportunity to be made more and more into the image of God.  It all depends on how they (we) choose to travel.

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

trust

Those who trust in the Lord are like Mount Zion, which cannot be shaken but endures forever.  As the mountains surround Jerusalem, so the Lord surrounds his people both now and forevermore. (Psalm 125:1-2, NIV)


If being shaken is the number one way on knowing whether or not we are really trusting in the Lord, I’m in big trouble.  I mean, I get shaken all the time.  My anxiety shakes me.  My insecurity shakes me.  My circumstances shake me.  The list goes on and on.  Does that mean I am not really trusting in the Lord?  Maybe, maybe not.

I think the thing I’m learning about trust is that it is not a one and done type of thing, but a continual process.  I might be able to trust God fully with one thing and then not really trust him with something else.  I might be able to trust him one minute, and then not the next.  The key seems to be in the turning—turning back to him, time and time again.  The word for trust in the Hebrew is batach, which means to hie for refuge.  To run to him again and again and again.  Don’t get me wrong, I do think that there is a way to live in God to the point where we are able to trust him in all things; I just haven’t arrived there quite yet.


So for me, as I learn to live more and more in him, it is a process of running to him in every situation and circumstance.  It is a choice I must make each and every time something comes along that disrupts my life or challenges my faith.  Who knows, maybe through running to him over and over and over, I will eventually learn to never leave.  I will eventually learn that I cannot handle this life on my own, and I should stop trying to do so.  Maybe someday trust will be something I do naturally, rather than something I have to remind myself to choose.  In the meantime, I guess I will just keep myself running back to him.



O Lord, it is easy for me to say that I trust you, but my anxiety and insecurity continually tell me otherwise.  Help me to REALLY trust in you, for only then will I REALLY have your peace.  Amen.

Monday, February 12, 2018

seasons

live fully where you are
and do not yearn for another land
lest you miss the treasure
that is buried in your own
lest you miss the One who
buried it

this field
this place
this season
holds treasure to unearth
if we are willing to search for it

so find the treasure that is buried
in every place and every season
even if it be a difficult one

for the difficult treasures
are the most valuable
holding the promise of
deep and lasting change

he has made everything
beautiful in its own time

so unearth the beauty
of the season
hallow the ground
upon which you stand

Saturday, February 10, 2018

calling

mark 1:35-39

if we start
with what
we make a 
grave mistake

for our what
must be formed
by our why


and our why
must be formed
by our who

and our who
must be formed
by our prayer

that is the
grand design

Thursday, February 8, 2018

a new land

Genesis 13:17-18 : "Go and walk through the length and the breadth of the land, for I am giving it to you."  So Abram moved his tents and went to live near the great trees of Mamre at Hebron, where he built an altar to the Lord.


I have a suspicion that God longs to lead each of us to a new and beautiful land, if we would simply be willing to follow.  But all too often our refusal to let go of the old, safe places and patterns and ways and habits and seasons keep us from being willing, or able, to fully embrace and enjoy all that he is trying to do in and through us.  Fear or comparison or complacency or cowardice takes hold of us, and keeps us from entering into this new place or vocation or season.  Thus, we end up sacrificing our future because of our past, and we lose out of all that God has in store.  Could it be that he is trying to nudge us into a new way of seeing and of being?  One that will make us realize that we can either lead safe, comfortable lives, or we can fully enter into all that is being offered us.  May we all embrace the new land and the new season that God is offering us.  O God, give us the grace and the courage to do so.  

Tuesday, February 6, 2018

a god directed life


Mark 1:35-39 - Very early in the morning, while it was still dark.  Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place, where he prayed.  Simon and his companions went to look for him, and when they found him they exclaimed, Everyone is looking for you!"
     Jesus replied, "Let us go somewhere else--to the nearby villages--so I can preach there also.  That is why I have come."  So he traveled throughout Galilee, preaching in their synagogues and driving out demons.

Jesus is up till the wee hours healing; the whole town gathered at his doorstep.  And yet, early the next morning, while it is still dark, he sneaks away to a solitary place to pray.  And somehow, during that time of prayer, his direction is set for the day ahead. 
    
So even as his disciples come to him, imploring him to come back because “Everyone is looking for you!”  Jesus responds with clarity:  “Let us go somewhere else, to the nearby villages—so I can preach there also.  That is why I came.”
    
Somehow, in his time with the Father, he is reminded of who he is and why he came.  He is guided by something far bigger than whim and opinion and circumstance.  And so, in spite of enormous pressure for him to return to Capernaum, he heads elsewhere.
   
And the lesson that follows is so important for us to understand.  The lesson is that prayer comes first.  It is prayer that helps to remind us of who we are.  And it is who we are that helps us to know why we are here.  And it is why we are here that is meant to determine what we are to do.  The order is significant: prayer, who, why, what.  When we get this out of order we operate at the mercy of opinion, pressure, and circumstance, not the Spirit.  For if we are not clear about our who and our why, we will never be clear about our what.

Maybe the reason we do not really know who we are is because he have not really learned how to pray.  God is dying to tell us, if we will just listen.


O God, help my what to always be determined by you—not me, not others, not needs, not circumstances.  Guide me this day.  Remind me of who I am and of why I am here.  I pray this in your name and for your glory.  Amen.


Monday, February 5, 2018

he sat down

hebrews 10:11-12

day after day
every high priest stands
performing his duties
offering sacrifices
again and again
because his work
is never done

but when jesus
our great high priest
offered his sacrifice
he sat down
at the right hand of god
because his work
was completed

why is it
that we spend our lives
constantly trying to achieve
something that has
already been 
accomplished 
for us

Wednesday, January 31, 2018

flip this house

unless the Lord
builds the house
~Psalm 127:1


sometimes
in order to build
a more beautiful house
the old one must be
taken down to the studs

the soul is no different
god wants to do something
good and beautiful in us
but a little deconstruction
might need to be done first

so when it seems
we are being stripped to the bone
we can rest assured
it is not absence or spite
but thoughtful intention

a renewing
of his image within us
a restoration of glory
the hope of
what is to come

Sunday, January 21, 2018

cast your cares


Cast all your cares on him because he cares for you. ~1 Peter 5:7


I’m not quite sure why this one is so hard—this casting of our anxieties on the One who cares for us.  It sounds so easy, in theory at least.  But it is oh so hard in practice.  Because it seems like no matter how well I start out, the anxieties always end up right back in my hands, or on my heart.  What is the secret to giving them to God, and then leaving them with God?  I guess if I had the answer to that question I would be a rich man.

I certainly don’t have a formula, but the verse itself, and those preceding it, might give us some helpful hints.  The Greek word used here for cast is epiriptō.  It means to throw upon.  The only other time it is used in all of the New Testament is in Luke 19:35 where it tells us that the disciples took off their garments and cast them upon the colt so that Jesus could ride into Jerusalem.  So it would appear that this casting is comprised of two parts—a taking off and a putting upon.  In other words, we cannot successfully cast our cares upon the One who loves us if we are unwilling to completely let go of them ourselves.  We must take them off in order to cast them upon.  Maybe this is where (one of the many places) we have trouble.  We want to give our burdens to God, but we still want to hold onto them, and control them, ourselves.  Obviously, this does not work.  We must first take them off, as the disciples took off their garments in order to cast them upon the colt.

I think the essence of this refusal to completely let go of our worries, cares, and burdens involves two things.  First, it involves an underlying belief that somehow we can manage our anxieties on our own—maybe even better than God can.  Control is a big issue for us, especially when we are being required to let go of it.  Somewhere along the line we have to become convinced of our own helplessness to truly be able bear the weight of these burdens.  That is the essence of the verse that precedes this invitation to cast our cares upon Him.  It calls us to a posture of humility.  It tells us that in order to fully give God our concerns, and let go of them ourselves, we must humble ourselves.  There is no other way.  We must admit we can’t do it and we must stop trying.  A lowering is required—a descent.  And in our culture, boy how we hate to descend.  We must come face to face with the fact that we cannot manage life—or our anxieties—on our own.  And that is a hard pill to swallow, much less admit.  Thus, maybe pride lies at the bottom of our inability to fully give our worries and cares to God.

The other thing that lies down there, in that dark place, is our lack of trust.  In our heart of hearts we doubt that God is either able or willing to take our burdens from us.  Or even worse, we are afraid of what he might do with them if we did.  We are afraid that if we give him full control of the things and the people that matter the most to us, things might not turn out quite like we’d hoped or planned.  In essence, we doubt the goodness of his heart.  It is not a new struggle.  In fact, it goes all the way back to the garden.  One of the most common strategies of the enemy is to get us to doubt the goodness of God’s heart—thereby making us believe that we must take matters into our own hands.  Which would mean that we are forever destined to a life of trying to manage and control outcomes that we have absolutely no ability to manage or control.  Or, in other words, endless anxiety.

Somehow we must choose a different way.  We must walk the path of trust.  We must become convinced of the goodness of God’s heart.  We must truly believe that God (as Psalm 62:11-12 tells us) is both strong and loving.  That he is both willing and able to carry our burdens, and to care for our lives.  In other words, if we are ever to succeed in the art of casting all of our anxieties on him it will be because we have become 100% convinced of the fact that he deeply cares for us.

Help me, O Lord, to cast all of my cares on you because you care for me.  Help me to see every happening, every circumstance, every event, conversation, and moment as an invitation to know you better and love you more.  You are my help and my hope.  You are my all.  Hold me in your strong and tender arms this day, that I might not fly from Thee, but stay close to your heart of love.  Amen.