Monday, December 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



Sunday, December 2, 2018

Get Ready for Advent

Watch and Wait: A Guide for Advent and Christmas

Just wanted to remind you that if you (or any of your friends, family, or coworkers) are looking for a companion to journey with you through the seasons of Advent and Christmas, you might want to try Watch and Wait.  It is available on Amazon.

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)

Wednesday, August 15, 2018

arise

song of songs 2:10-13

neither mood
nor circumstance
get the privilege
of determining
your season

that right
is reserved
for me
i am
he who calls
and determines
and declares
i am
the one who
sets the seasons

and i say
arise my beloved
my beautiful one
and come with me

winter is past
the rains are over
flowers appear
in the land
the season of singing
has arrived

so arise
get up
it’s time to leave
wherever you have been
and come with me
to the beautiful place
and the beautiful season
i have set for you

for i am
your Lover
your God
and there is
no other

Sunday, August 12, 2018

one

How good and pleasant it is when brothers dwell together in unity.  For there the Lord bestows his blessing, even life forevermore. (Psalm 133:1, 3)

When we live in loving community with those around us, we truly reflect the glory and the beauty of the Three-in-One God.  That is why unity leads to the bestowing of God’s blessing and life, for it is life the way it was intended to be.  Thus, community (as is worship) is merely the invitation to enter into the joy and gladness and delight of the life of God himself.  What an invitation!

R. Thomas Ashbrook asks: “What might it mean to live fully and freely in the life of the Trinity, knowing and loving God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit as they know and love each other?”  I think part of what it might mean is that we begin to live like that with each other as well.  That joining in the Dance of the Trinity means that we dance with each other that way as well.  It is merely a reflection of who he is, and who we are in him.  God cannot help but bestow his blessing because his very life is flowing in and through and among us.  Which is good and pleasant indeed.


Friday, August 10, 2018

alive

But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in our transgressions--it is by grace you have been saved. (Ephesians 2:4-5)

The bottom line to this life of faith is that Jesus is always about making us alive.  It’s just who he is.  He breathed us into being at the beginning, he raised us from the dead at the cross, and he breathes new life into us each day by his Spirit.  Everywhere Jesus goes he brings life.  Everything he touches comes alive in his hands.  Everyone he calls forth from the tomb—even the tomb of doubt, or despair, or depression—is raised up from the dead.  If you don’t believe it, just look at the gospels.

Therefore, if we are in relationship with Jesus—if he is living in us and working through us—the question is not if but where.  Where and how.  Where and how is he making us alive?  Today.  What is being raised up, or renewed, or resurrected within us these days?  Where is there new life blooming?  Because where we are most alive, Jesus is at work within us.

Lord Jesus, help us to pay attention to the places we are most alive.  For where we are most alive, you are at work within us.

Friday, August 3, 2018

parenting

no matter how much
i might like to try
i do not get
to write this story

all i can do
is try not to hinder
the becoming
but make good space
and wait expectantly
for its beautiful unfolding

Monday, July 30, 2018

goals are the enemy of rest

So I found something out on my latest vacation.  It is something I can’t believe I didn’t recognize years ago, especially after coming back from vacation after vacation more tired than I was before I left.  What I found out is this: Goals are the enemy of rest.  I know, I know, it sounds so countercultural, or certainly counter-intuitive.  But think about it.  When was the last time you really rested?  And what were the dynamics that made it possible?  And what are the things that have been obstacles to rest in the past?
    
My typical pattern is that I go on vacation with a plan, a list of things I’m hoping to accomplish.  That should tell me something right there.  Don’t get me wrong, they are good things, really good things.  They are things that I enjoy and things that have the potential to bring me rest.  But somehow when they become a list, they take on a life of their own.  All of the sudden I am trying to rest—I’m working at rest.  Thus, the rest is gone right out of it.  Now I’ve just got a bunch of goals, a bunch of things to do.  And when the things on my list don’t get done, or somehow my goals are blocked, I get frustrated.  By the way, that’s what happens when our goals get blocked—we get frustrated.  If you are ever frustrated and don’t know why, just ask yourself what goal you have (spoken or unspoken, acknowledged or hidden) that is being blocked.   
     
Take the last few days, for instance.  We had the opportunity to spend a few days at the beach.  Immediately I thought, “Oh great, a chance to get a little sun, read a little, exercise a little, and be still and quiet.”  All good things, yet when those good things subtly become my goals, I’m setting myself up for failure.  All of the sudden I am working at accomplishing my goals, rather than truly resting.  I don’t know, maybe folks that are wired differently from me don’t have this struggle.  But I sure do. 
     
All of the sudden, getting a little sun becomes work; something I’ve got to do.  And the rest of it drains right out.  Then it rains and I find myself frustrated.  Or that quiet reading under the umbrella by the beach that I had envisioned in my mind is interrupted by the bazillion people that are now crowded around on every side, talking loudly enough for folks five umbrellas down to be able to hear them, and blaring their music from their wireless speakers.  Strike two.  And that run on the beach I had envisioned is interrupted by the pulled soleus that has been nagging me for the past few months, and now decides to flare up again.  Strike three.  Awesome!  (Not awesome in the sense that “this is wonderful,” but awesome in the sense of “of course, this always happens to me.”  Funny how the same word can have two completely different meanings depending on the tone they are uttered in)
     
So somehow I have to figure out how to take the work out of rest.  Somehow I have got to learn how to be intentional about making the space and time for rest to happen without turning it into a goal.  Because goals really are the enemy of rest.  Somehow I have got to start holding things loosely, taking things as they come, and enjoying whatever the present moment has to offer.  Which is not easy for me, being the anxiety-ridden person that I am.  But if I ever hope to have any deep sense of rest, it will only come when I learn to stop doing and start being.  Just being alive and present.  Breathing and breathing out.  Living and savoring time and space, rather than always filling it.  Just enjoying, as one of the saints of old once said, the sacrament of the present moment.  It’s going to take some practice, but hopefully one day I’ll get there.  Hopefully one day I will actually go on vacation with no list.  A man can dream, right?

Friday, July 20, 2018

kiss

Let him kiss me with the kisses of his mouth!  For your love is better than wine. (Song of Songs 1:2)


"You have seen the way we must follow, the order of procedure.  First we cast ourselves at his feet, we 'kneel before the Lord, our maker,' deploring the evil we have done.  Then we reach out for the hand that will lift us up, that will steady our trembling knees.  And finally, when we shall have obtained these favors through many prayers and tears, we humbly dare to raise our eyes to his mouth, so divinely beautiful, not merely to gaze upon, but--I say with fear and trembling--to receive his kiss; for Christ the Lord is a Spirit before our face.  And we who are joined to him in a holy kiss become, at his good pleasure, one spirit with him." (On the Song of Songs by Bernard of Clairvaux)

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.