Tuesday, December 31, 2019

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



Saturday, August 31, 2019

Just Released





















Hi friends.  Thought you would want to know that my new book Teach Us to Pray has just been released on Amazon.  Tell your friends!

Saturday, July 6, 2019

my grace


My grace is sufficient for you.  No, really, it is!  So stop trying to earn my love and favor.  Stop trying to make it on your own.  Stop beating yourself up and wearing yourself out.  Stop trying to arrange your life in such a way that you won’t need me quite so much.  My grace really is sufficient for you.  It is all you need.

Help me to let your grace be enough for me today, Lord Jesus.  For if I really believe your grace is enough, it changes everything.  It totally changes the way I live my life.

Friday, July 5, 2019

the tale of two men

He also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and treated others with contempt: “Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector.The Pharisee, standing by himself, prayed thus: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.’ But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’ I tell you, this man went down to his house justified, rather than the other. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.” (Luke 18:9-14, ESV)


Once upon a time there were two men; one who thought he had it all together, and the other who was painfully aware that he did not.  One who was pretty sure that he was God’s gift to humanity, and the other who was pretty sure humanity didn’t even know his name.  One who was constantly seeking the spotlight, and the other who was content in the shadows.  One who was ever climbing upward, and the other who was well acquainted with the downward path.  One who was so in love with his own observations and opinions that he couldn’t wait to share his "wisdom" with anyone and everyone in his path, and the other who was fully aware that the only thing he really knew was that he did not know.  One who thought he knew how to pray, and the other who realized he didn’t even know what prayer really was.  One who was so full of himself that there was not any room for anyone or anything else, and the other who was so empty that there was plenty of room for God and others.  One who was destined to be humbled, and the other who humbled himself.  Which one would you rather be, one or the other?


He told his next story to some who were complacently pleased with themselves over their moral performance and looked down their noses at the common people: “Two men went up to the Temple to pray, one a Pharisee, the other a tax man. The Pharisee posed and prayed like this: ‘Oh, God, I thank you that I am not like other people—robbers, crooks, adulterers, or, heaven forbid, like this tax man. I fast twice a week and tithe on all my income.’  Meanwhile the tax man, slumped in the shadows, his face in his hands, not daring to look up, said, ‘God, give mercy. Forgive me, a sinner.'" 
     Jesus commented, “This tax man, not the other, went home made right with God. If you walk around with your nose in the air, you’re going to end up flat on your face, but if you’re content to be simply yourself, you will become more than yourself.” (Luke 18:9-14, The Message)

Thursday, July 4, 2019

freedom

You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh; rather, serve one another humbly in love. For the entire law is fulfilled in keeping this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” (Galatians 5:13-14, NIV)

How would you define freedom?  What does it look like to be truly free?  How we answer both of those questions has a whole lot to do with whether or not we will ever experience true freedom in our lives.

Freedom is not about personal rights and privileges, it is not a license to be self-consumed.  Freedom is about us collectively living the lives we were intended to live—being the people we were created to be.  Loving and serving one another the way we were intended to love and serve.  It is not about doing whatever we want to do, whenever we want to do it.  It is much bigger than that.  It is about living a life of love.  Freedom is not about being consumed with self, but about not having to be consumed with self.  It is so easy to be held hostage in the prison of self without even realizing we are in bondage.

Jesus came to show us a different way.  He came to show us what freedom really is—and what it is not.  True freedom is about living a life of love.  It says, “I do not need you to tell me who I am and why I am valuable, therefore I can actually love and serve you without trying to squeeze or manipulate love out of you."  That’s true freedom.

It is absolutely clear that God has called you to a free life. Just make sure that you don’t use this freedom as an excuse to do whatever you want to do and destroy your freedom. Rather, use your freedom to serve one another in love; that’s how freedom grows. For everything we know about God’s Word is summed up in a single sentence: Love others as you love yourself. That’s an act of true freedom. (Galatians 5:13-15, The Message)

Tuesday, June 25, 2019

rest and unrest


We were made for rest, not unrest.  Our hearts were designed to find their rest in God.  Thus, deep soul rest was intended to be our natural state.  But for most of us, true rest is an anomaly rather than a normality.  The rest our souls so deeply long for—the rest our souls were actually created for—is far from our daily reality.  That is why Jesus comes to each of us and says: “Come to me and I will give you rest.  Take my yoke upon you, for it fits you perfectly.  I made it just for you and it is the only thing that can make you your truest and best self.  In fact, I am the only one—including you—who even knows who that really is.  So come to me and know the rest and the peace and the wholeness of being who and what you were created to be.  Then you can stop trying so hard and can be free to be your true self.”

Monday, June 24, 2019

still

God works in subtlety
he does not tend to wave his arms
in big sudden movements
but comes in a whisper
like a gentle breeze
that is easy to miss
if we aren't paying attention

Thursday, June 20, 2019

God and or God alone

For God alone my soul waits in silence; from him comes my salvation. He alone is my rock and my salvation, my fortress; I shall not be greatly shaken. (Psalm 62:1-2, ESV)

The Hebrew version of Psalm 62 starts with the word only:  “Only for God does my soul wait in silence.”  It then repeats that word numerous times over the next eight verses.  Needless to say, it is the major theme of the psalm.  God is the only one who is worthy of our trust, and we are only trusting in him when we trust in him alone.  A. W. Tozer says it this way: “When religion has said its last word, there is little that we need other than God himself.  The evil habit of God-and effectively prevents us from finding God in full revelation.  In the “and” lies our great woe.  If we omit the “and” we shall soon find God, and in him we shall find that for which we have all our lives been secretly longing.”

Unfortunately, it is a very short trip from God alone to God and.  It is a very subtle shift in thinking and in being that is very hard to recognize.  We start out trusting in God alone, and then, before we know it, we begin to trust in God and our own comfort, God and our own opinion, God and our own agenda, God and our own desired outcome.  Somewhere along the line our desires have shifted from God alone to God and, and we didn’t even recognize it.

So how are we to know when we are trusting in God and rather than God alone?  The psalm, once again, gives us a clue.  Whenever we trust in God alone, we are not shaken (v. 2, 6), whatever that may look like.  It is our reaction to circumstances and situations that will let us know where I real trust lies.  If I am too attached to a certain outcome or opinion, if I am consumed with a certain situation, if I am frustrated or defensive or argumentative—all of those are signs that I might be trusting in God and rather than God alone.  Which means that I must recognize it, confess it, and repent (turn around).  I need to turn from God and, and return to God alone.  For trusting in God alone takes a good healthy detachment from my own desires, preferences, and opinions.  It requires us to be indifferent to anything but the will of God.  God become the end, not merely a means to an end.

O Lord, help us to recognize all of the ways and all of the places where we are trusting in you and something (or someone) else.  Help us to let go of those things—whoever or whatever they may be—and return to you alone.  For you alone are my rock, my refuge, and my fortress.  My salvation and my honor depend on you—alone.

Tuesday, June 11, 2019

with you


"Don’t try to fix it, just be still.  Don’t start running around like a crazy person trying to manage and manipulate and control things, just know that I am God.  Whether you believe it or not right now—whether it looks like it or not—I will be exalted.  Do not allow fear and anxiety and disappointment to get the best of you.  Nothing has changed, I am still the Lord God Almighty.  And I am still with you."

Saturday, June 8, 2019

low

O Lord, my heart is not lifted up; my eyes are not raised too high; I do not occupy myself with things too great and too marvelous for me." ~Psalm 131:1


     The Water Song

Come, oh come!  Let us away
Lower, lower every day.
Oh, what joy it is to race
Down to the lowest place.
This the deepest law we know—
“It is happy to go low.”
Sweetest urge and sweetest will,
“Let us go down lower still.”
Hear the summons night and day
Calling us to come away.
From the heights we leap and flow
To the valleys down below.
Always answering the call,
To the lowest place of all.
Sweetest urge and sweetest pain,
To go low and rise again.
~Hannah Hurnard

Wednesday, June 5, 2019

find rest

My soul finds rest in God alone, my salvation comes from him.  He alone is my rock and my salvation; he is my fortress, I will never be shaken.  (Psalm 62:1-2)

The only place your soul will truly find rest is in my unfailing love.  You will not find it in circumstances.  You will not find it in your own efforts.  You will not find it in the praise and admiration of others.  You will not find it in achievements and success.  You will not find it in what others think or say about you.  You will only find it in me…alone.  And only when your soul finds rest in my unfailing love alone, will you be able to love others the way I love you.

Saturday, June 1, 2019

becoming together

“How good and pleasant it is when brothers and sisters live together in unity.” (Psalm 133:1)

“We are never more ourselves than when we pray.  But if we remain only ourselves, then we are less than ourselves.” ~Eugene Peterson

We can only become our truest selves together.  It can never fully happen alone.  Only together will we ever have the courage and the strength and the wisdom it takes to stop listening to the lies of the world—and our insecure hearts—and listen to the Voice of the One who whispered us into being.  Only together will we ever be able to let go of the false self and become who and what we were really intended to be.  Alone we will always either cave in or chicken out.  Alone we will always be at the mercy of mood and whim and circumstance.  But together there is strength.  Together we are able to call each other to more—to being all that God desires us to be.  Now that really is good and pleasant!


Tuesday, May 28, 2019

and know

Be still and know that I am God...(Psalm 46:10)

The words of this ancient prayer teach us a great spiritual truth: It’s not just “be still,” but “be still and know that I am God.”  Both are required.

It is being still that makes it possible for us to know that he is God.  It helps us to make space and time for that knowing to take place.  But being still on its own is not enough.  In fact, the being still part doesn’t do a whole lot of good without the knowing he is God part.

It is a beautiful thing that God longs to be known.  In fact, that’s where we get it from.  He made us for the purpose of knowing he is God.  Not just intellectually knowing him (that’s part of it), but spiritually, emotionally, and relationally knowing him as well.  God wants us to know him intimately.  And when we do—when we know to the core of our being that he is God—it changes everything.  Everything else comes into perspective.  Everything else falls into its proper place.

So let us take the words of this ancient prayer to heart today.  Let us be still and let us know that he is God.  For being still is of some value, but being still and knowing that he is God is of value for this life and the life to come.

Sunday, May 19, 2019

progress

“Be diligent in these matters; give yourselves wholly to them, so that everyone may see your progress.” (1 Timothy 4:15)

How do you define progress in your spiritual life?  And more importantly, how do you think Jesus would define it?  Think about that for a moment.  In fact, make a list of both and see how similar—and how different—they are.

Were the words poor in spirit or meek or merciful on your list?  How about hungry and thirsty or pure in heart or persecuted?  How about least or last or selfless or humble?  Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, or self-control make your list?  The fact of the matter is that Jesus’ definition of progress in the spiritual life is often much different from our own, so it is probably a good idea for us to try and get on the same page.  That way we can actually look at our lives and determine whether we are, in fact, becoming more like Jesus or not.

The older I get, the more I am coming to believe that when I think about myself less, I am actually just beginning to make some progress.  When I care less about what other people think and care more about what God thinks.  When I begin to let go of what I know and begin to embrace the fact that I really don’t know much of anything.  When I am more content with being unseen and unnoticed—because I am fully seen and fully noticed by Jesus—rather than always trying to be the center of attention.  When I finally start to listen more than I speak.  When being loving becomes more important than being right.  When I stop climbing up and allow Jesus to lead me down.  When I stop wondering so much about who I am, and become more concerned with whose I am.

Those are the types of things I’m trying to pay attention to these days.  What about you?

Wednesday, May 15, 2019

blessed are the meek

“Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.” (Matthew 5:5) 

We live in a day and age, it seems, where the things this world values the most are in direct opposition to the life Jesus describes as blessed.  That would be especially true when it comes to being meek.

The word meek is a hard one to define.  In essence, it means to be gentle or kind.  It is generally associated with a spirit of kindness, humility, and submission.  The word Jesus used in Matthew 5:5 is prays, which means gentleness of spirit or mildness of disposition.  Thus, meekness is the opposite of self-assertiveness or self-interest.  The meek are those who are not occupied with self at all, but totally reliant on God.  Meek people don’t stomp around, but tread lightly.  They don’t feel the need to continually air their opinions, but listen carefully.  They do not see people as threats or competition, but look tenderly.  They do not fight and grab and push their way to the front, but they touch with reverence.  Meek people know that true growth requires nurture, not force.  In our rough and tumble world, meekness can be a vivid, tangible reminder of the presence of God among us.  The meek do not posture nor promote, they do not campaign nor draw attention to themselves, but they offer their contributions to the world in quiet tenderness.  Therefore, the meek are able to inherit the earth because they are not trying to control, conquer, manipulate, or impress it.  They are blessed because they are a blessing.

Lord Jesus, if we ever hope to be anything like you, we must learn to be meek.  Unfortunately, that is so much against our nature that we can never hope to do it on our own.  You must grow it in us.  Have mercy on us, Lord Jesus!  Make us more and more like you each day.  Amen.

Monday, May 13, 2019

occupied

Occupied: to be filled up (space, time, etc.).  I find that I am often occupied.  And at times even preoccupied.  The problem is that I am not usually occupied with the right things; or at least not the things that lead to life and freedom.  I am all too often occupied with my own worries and insecurities and fears—which makes me a really bad version of myself.  And at times I am occupied with my own opinions and plans and agendas—which leaves me oblivious to anything other than my little corner of this great big world.  But the bigger problem is that when I am occupied, I have no room.  I have no room for God and I have no room for anyone else.  I am far too full of myself.

I think that’s where Psalm 23 comes in.  It comes in and tries to reorient me.  It tries to shift my focus from being occupied with self—which wears me down and burns me out—to being occupied with God—who longs to renew my soul and make my cup overflow.  Which can sound self-centered in and of itself unless we realize how the spiritual life is designed to work.  It is the overflow of the life of God within me that is supposed to pour out on those around me.  True ministry is always designed to happen as a result of this overflow.

Psalm 23 is God’s attempt to say, “How I long for your attention and your affection.  And the things that occupy you only distract you from what is most important—me.  So stop.  Just stop.  Let go of all of the things that fill your space, and make time and space for me.  Here is what I want you to do today: lay down, be still, be mine.  Everything else will take care of itself."

Lord God, I am still so full, it seems, of everything but you.  Help me to let go of all that occupies my heart and soul, and help me to take hold of—or be taken hold of—by you alone.  Make me lie down in green pastures and lead me beside still waters, that my soul may be restored to its creation intent.  Amen.

Sunday, May 12, 2019

blessed

“Blessed are the poor in spirit for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” ~Matthew 5:3

Jesus certainly turns everything upside down, doesn’t he?  The poor and the mourners and the meek and the hungry and the merciful and the peacemakers and the persecuted are the ones who are blessed?  Most of us would normally think the opposite was true.

If he is right, however, that the ones on the bottom are the ones who are really blessed, then why do I keep trying to get to the top?  If it is true that the nobodies are the ones who are living in line with his will and his desire, then why do I keep desperately trying to be somebody?  If it is, in fact, accurate that the poor are the ones who are better off, then why do I keep trying to get rich?  If being hidden and unnoticed and lowly and small is the path to true blessing, then why do I keep trying to be visible and noticed and well thought of and important?

Blessed is the man who is not constantly consumed with himself, but is consumed with the things of God.  Apparently Jesus needs to turn me upside down as well.

Wednesday, May 8, 2019

ask, seek, and knock

It sounds pretty simple, right?  Jesus tells his disciples, “Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you.  For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened.” (Luke 11:9-10)  So all we have to do is knock and knock and knock, until eventually Jesus gets so tired of the knocking that he opens the door and gives us what we want?  I don’t think so.  What if we are knocking on a door that was never supposed to be—or never intended to be—opened?  What then?

I think that’s where the ask and the seek parts come in.  There is a sequence here that we must pay attention to.  These verses are not carte blanche to ask for whatever we want, knowing that if we are persistent enough in our asking, God will eventually break down and give it to us.  I mean, what if we come to him asking for a snake or a scorpion?  What then?

Perhaps ask does not mean asking for whatever we want, but asking him what he wants.  And perhaps seek does not mean seeking our own will and preference, but seeking God’s will and God’s preference.  For after we ask God what he wants and seek his will and his way in whatever we might be praying about, then we can knock and knock and knock, and rest assured that when the timing is right he will open the door.

For at times it is just as likely that God’s answer to our deepest prayers might come in the form of a closed door, as it does an opened one.  And far be it from us to keep knocking and knocking on a closed door, and not receiving the guidance and direction it has to offer.  That is why ask and seek must come first.  And that is why Jesus used all three of these words as he was teaching the disciples how to pray.

Monday, May 6, 2019

watchful and thankful

“Devote yourselves to prayer, being watchful and thankful.” (Colossians 4:2)

If you had to pick two words that you wanted to describe your prayer life, what would they be?  Would you want it to be described as fervent and diligent?  How about powerful and passionate?  Or what about tender and intimate?  And what two words do you think God would pick?  Of all the words that God could have chosen, who would guessed that he would have picked the words watchful and thankful?  Two great words no doubt, but probably not the first two I would have thought of.  I guess that shows what I know about prayer.

In Colossians 4:2, Paul encourages us to be devoted to prayer.  It is the same word used in Acts 2:42 to describe the four things the new community of believers devoted themselves to in order to nurture and grow the fires of God’s Spirit that were burning among and within them.  The Greek word (proskartereō) actually means to be strong toward.  So, here in Colossians, Paul is encouraging us to always be strong toward prayer.  And the way we do that is by being both watchful and thankful.

To be watchful (grēgoreō) means to give strict attention to, to be vigilant, or to stay awake.  Thus, a significant part of the life of prayer is relentlessly paying attention to all that God is doing within and around us.  Having eyes to see and ears to hear exactly what he is up to.  I guess he knew how easy it would be to get distracted, or to be lulled to sleep, by all of the daily tasks and worries and chores that compel and consume us.

And he also tells us to be thankful.  The word used here is eucharistia, which comes from the word eu, meaning good, and the word charizomai, which means to grant favor.  Thus, we are thankful when we realize that we have been granted good favor.  When we begin to see that all things are a gift and that God is the giver of all good gifts.  Life is not a right but a privilege.  It is something that has been given to us and, therefore, is something to be cherished and nurtured.

Thus, prayer is a way of being with God that nourishes and sustains these two things.  It helps us stay awake to him and all that he is up to, and it fills us with gratitude for both who he is and for what he does.  It makes us grateful that we belong to him and that we have the privilege of living both for and with him each day.  Now that’s something to be thankful for!

Friday, May 3, 2019

guidance

“I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go; I will counsel you with my eye upon you. Be not like a horse or a mule, without understanding, which must be curbed with bit and bridle, or it will not stay near you.” (Psalm 32:8-9, ESV)

God never promises that he will give us the answers to our deepest questions of life and vocation, but he does promise that he will always give us himself.  He will instruct and teach and guide us.  He will be with us and walk with us and give us understanding about the things of God.  The rest is up to us.

All too often we look for writing in the sky, or a voice from the clouds, when he has already given us everything we need.  He does not want us to be like a horse or a mule who have no understanding and must be controlled by bit and bridle.  That is not the kind of relationship he wants with us.  That kind of life requires no faith, no trust, no dependence.  He wants us to live in continuous union with him, so that when a decision does need to be made it will flow out of an ongoing, intimate inner life with him.  That’s why he reminds us that “the Lord’s unfailing love surrounds the man who trusts in him.” (Psalm 32:10, NIV)

Wednesday, May 1, 2019

humble yourself

If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and will heal their land.” (2 Chronicles 7:14)

When will you ever realize that you can’t do this thing on your own?  When are you finally going to admit that you need my help?  When will you finally stop trying to do it all yourself and turn to me?  What will it take?  How much must you go through?  When will you finally humble yourself and pray and seek my face?  When will you finally turn from your wicked, self-centered ways and acknowledge that this life is too big for you to manage?

When you get to that point, then we are getting somewhere.  Then we are just beginning to make some progress.  Then you are starting to mature.  After all, this life is not about you in the first place, but about me.  The sooner you realize and acknowledge that the better off you will be.

So here’s the thing, you can either humble yourself, or I can do it for you.  Which one would you prefer?  Because one way or another, we are eventually going to get there.

O Lord, our God, forgive us when our pride and arrogance and self-centeredness keep us from turning to you in humble obedience and dependence.  Forgive us when we get a little too full of ourselves and a little too big for our britches to realize that apart from you we can do nothing.  Forgive us when we fall in love with our own opinions and observations and stop listening to your voice and seeking your face.  Forgive us when we begin to think that we can handle this life on our own, or make things happen for ourselves.

Humble us, O God, and remind us of who we are and of who you are, that we might, once again, return to you with our whole hearts in prayer and self-surrender.  We pray this in the name of Jesus.  Amen.

Monday, April 29, 2019

proactive

Well, it happened again—I reacted.  I let my fears and my anxieties and my insecurities get the best of me—and turn me into the worst possible version of myself—and I reacted.  It seems like at some point I would learn.  At some point I would stop living a reactive life and start living a more proactive one.  The kind of life Psalm 1 encourages me to live.  Oh, I do get it right from time to time, or from season to season, but I still get it wrong so often.

When will I ever learn that I cannot stop delighting in his law and meditating on it night and day or this will be the end result?  I cannot grow tired or lazy or lax in my practice, or I will quickly turn into someone that I really do not like at all.  I will suddenly be at the mercy of the winds and waves of circumstance and emotion and be blown like chaff once again.  Maybe that’s why the psalm includes the words day and night as it talks about our meditation on the law, because the psalmist knows the relentlessly ongoing nature of this battle—the battle between being proactive and being reactive.

And it is never very hard to see who is winning this battle at any given moment, all you have to do is look at the fruit.  If the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control, then all I have to do is see if those things are present in my life to know whether I am living a proactive life of being planted by streams, or a reactive life of being blown like chaff.

Luckily, there is repentance.  Luckily, each and every minute of every day we have the opportunity to choose to return to God, to plant ourselves by the stream of Living Water.  Even after we have, once again, forgotten to do that and allowed emotion or busyness or insecurity or circumstances to blow us away.  That is the beauty of repentance.  Blessed is the man who practices it regularly.


O Lord, how I long to be different.  How I long to turn from my twisted and dysfunctional patterns and habits, in order to be more whole and holy.  I long to be set free from my own self-consumed ways of being and seeing, and to become more and more like you.  I long to be more loving instead of self-centered.  I long to be more compassionate rather than competitive.  And I long to care more about your will and your work than I do about my own.  Continue, O God, to transform my heart.  Grow your grace in me and let it flow freely and effortlessly from my heart and life.  Change me from deep within. Give me more peace and less frustration.  Make me more rooted and less reactive.  Help me to be more caring and less annoyed.  O Jesus, fill me so full of your love that there will be no room in me for anything else.  (Room to Flourish by Jim Branch)

Saturday, April 27, 2019

risen

john 20:19-28

you show up
behind our doors
locked in fear
offering us your peace
and revealing yourself
in a way that changes 
how we see

you invite us
to touch your 
risen wounds
so that we can know
the depths of what 
resurrection can do

you breathe
your divine breath
upon and within us
and then send us
into the broken world
to be your hands and feet
your heart and soul

you say to us
stop doubting and believe
and so it is up to us
to decide whether
we will do that
or not

Wednesday, April 24, 2019

sometimes it takes an earthquake

There was a violent earthquake, for an angel of the Lord came down from heaven and, going to the tomb, rolled back the stone and sat on it.  His appearance was like lightening, and his clothes were as white as snow.  The guards were so afraid of him that they shook and became like dead men.” (Matthew 28:2-4)

Sometimes it takes an earthquake to roll away the stone that keeps us trapped in death and darkness and despair.  Sometimes it takes an earthquake to awaken us from our slumber and stagnation and lethargy, and send us on our way with new life and energy and direction.  Sometimes it takes an earthquake to get us out of our comfortable, safe, sheltered lives, in order to start a new fire and instill a new passion deep within us.  Sometimes it takes an earthquake to disrupt our daily, self-consumed routines and remind us that, ultimately, this life is not about us in the first place, but about God.

So God sends his angel from heaven to shake us up.  He sends his holy messenger to disturb and disrupt us, so that we might not be trapped in our old ways of being and seeing.  He removes the stone that holds us captive and offers us the freedom to walk out of the dark tomb into the light of his love and affection.  For God always wants more for us, but sometimes it takes an earthquake to get us there.

Tuesday, April 23, 2019

do not hold on to me

“Do not hold on to me, for I have not yet returned to the Father.” (John 20:17)

I don’t know about you, but I’m not a big fan of change.  I mean, I eat the same breakfast every day.  And when I am in town, I spend my time with Jesus in the exact same spot.  I do my best writing when I am at my dining room table.  And when I have to travel I can’t wait to get back home to my normal routine.

So needless to say, when my dad passed away last week it was a bit of a jolt.  It had been a long, hard year for him and he was ready to go, but once he was gone it was a bit disorienting.  One day you have parents and the next day they are both gone.  And as glad as I am that they are with Jesus—and finally alive and free—it is a bit strange looking ahead to life without them.  One of our friends called it “the second empty nest.”  And that’s exactly what it feels like.  I will miss my parents immensely, but at the same time it also opens the future to certain possibilities that were just not available during the past couple of years as I had to help care for them.  So while it is disorienting and frightening, it is also leaves me curious and hopeful.  What does God have in store for this next season of life?

It feels a little like swinging on a trapeze bar.  You enjoy the security and the stability and the safety and the comfort of the bar you are currently holding onto, but in order to experience the trapeze the way it was meant to be experienced you must, at some point, let go of the bar you are holding onto and take hold of a bar that has not yet come into view.  It is impossible to take hold of the new if you are unwilling to let go of the old.  And that can be incredibly scary, because for an instant you are hanging in midair.

I’m guessing that’s kind of how Mary and the disciples felt at the death and resurrection of Jesus.  In fact, as Jesus appeared to Mary outside the empty tomb he had to tell her not to hold on to him.  In some ways she was going to have to let go of what she knew of Jesus up to that point in order to take hold of the Jesus she did not yet know.  And that had to be both terrifying and exhilarating.  “Mary, let go of the me you have grown comfortable and familiar with, so that you can take hold of a me that is bigger and more glorious than you ever dared dream of.”

You see, in the spiritual life we must constantly be willing to let go of the old, in order to take hold of the new.  We can’t grasp the new bar until we are willing to let go of the old one.  Or, as Jesus once reminded us, we can’t put new wine in old wineskins.  Our old ways of being and seeing cannot contain the new life of the Spirit that God desires to pour into us.  So in order to fully embrace the new, we must first be willing to fully let go of the old.  That’s what the resurrection is all about.  The only question is, are we willing?

Monday, April 22, 2019

the empty tomb

I have to admit that during Eastertide I often rush right past the empty tomb in order to get to the resurrection appearances of Jesus.  But when I do so, I miss the opportunity to be both amazed and confounded by exactly what Mary and the disciples discovered as they arrived at the tomb early on that first Easter morning.  Just imagine what must have been going on within them as they tried to understand and explain and come to terms with what had just taken place.  And even though Jesus had been telling them about it all along, the reality of what had just happened was far beyond their wildest dreams or best explanations.

You see, the empty tomb shows us that God is forever busting out of the tiny boxes we try to put him in.  He cannot be confined or contained.  He will not be controlled or manipulated.  He refuses to be captured or tamed or domesticated.  He is always wild and free and alive.  We never quite know how or where or when he might show up next, so we have to be awake and alert and attentive.  He might show up in the way, or at a time, we least expect it.

The tomb could not contain you, Lord Jesus, and neither can we.  Forgive us when we try.  Be wild and free and alive in our lives today and every day.  Amen.

Friday, April 19, 2019

knowing who you are

But Moses said to Pharaoh, "Who am I, that I should and bring the Israelites out of Egypt?" (Exodus 3:11)

Who am I? All of life, it seems, is a continual journey to find the answer to that question.  It is the force that drives us and the conundrum that plagues us.  Ever since the Fall, when we became disconnected from the only One who can really give us the answer to our deepest questions of meaning and purpose, we have struggled to come to terms with our true identity.  Who are we?  And what makes us worth loving?  We spend our whole lives trying to answer those questions.  The problem is that we seek an answer in places that can never fully provide one.  We look to the world to tell us who we are, rather than looking to our God.  And the truth is that our identity can never be achieved or manufactured or constructed, it can only be bestowed.  And it can only be bestowed by the One who made us, by the One who dreamt us into being.

But instead of listening to the Voice of Love, we listen to so many other voices.  We listen to the voices of our world and our culture who tell us that we are what we do, we are how we look, or we are what we've got.  We listen to the voices of our anxiety and insecurity and fear.  Or we listen to the voices of our pride and our arrogance and our adequacy.  All of which lead us on a wild goose chase, for none of these voices can tell us what we most deeply long to hear.  None of these things can satisfy the deepest longings of our souls.  So we spend our days trying to become somebody, rather than simply enjoying the fact that (in Christ) we already are somebody. We spend our lives trying to make a name for ourselves, when God has already given us a name, one that he has chosen especially for us.  We work and we sweat and we perform. We measure and we compare and we compete.  We fret and we toil and we strain.  We read books and take tests and go to workshops.  We listen to speakers and webinars and podcasts.  We are so thirsty to know who we really are that we will believe anyone who seems to have a compelling answer.  We are bound and determined to find an identity, even if we have to beg, borrow, or steal one.  But the truth remains that only God can tell us who we really are.  No person, nor number, nor acronym can do that.  At best they can only describe what we have become as a result of the pain and heartbreak of living in this broken world.  They can help us identify the fig leaves that have worked for us thus far as we have attempted to hide our nakedness and our fear and our shame.

For example, contrary to popular belief, you are not a number.  Your enneagram number is not who you are.  It is what you have become.  It is just another "coat against the cold," to borrow a phrase from Frederick Buechner.  It is just another "dragon skin," (to borrow an image from C. S. Lewis) that must be peeled away and discarded.  In the words of the creator of the enneagram himself (Oscar Ichazo), the nine personality types are merely "ego fixations and aberrations."  They are what we have become as a result of living in a fallen world.  Only God can tell us who we really are.  Only Aslan can cut through all of the layers of the fake and the false to get down to what is real and true.  Don't get me wrong, the enneagram can be incredibly helpful in "taking off the old self and its practices" (Col. 3:9), but only Jesus can give you a new (true) self to become.

Moses was an Israelite who was born and raised in Egypt.  We are not told a lot about his family.  We do not know if he ever knew his father, and we do not know exactly how long he knew his mother.  The one thing we do know is that the daughter of Pharaoh was the one who named him and raised him.  In fact, she named him Moses because he was drawn out of the water.  But in Egyptian, the name Moses simply meant son of.  As in, son of no one, son of someone, son of anyone.  You fill in the blank.  So Moses grew up not knowing who he really was.  Thus, it was certainly no mistake that when he came to the burning bush and God told him that he was sending him to deliver the Israelites, Moses' first question was "Who am I?"  for he really didn't know.

And God answered that question in such an amazing way.  He answered it not by telling Moses who Moses was, he answered it by telling Moses who God was--I am.  He did that because we can only know who we are if we first know who God is.  Who I am depends solely on the great I Am.  Our being is derived from his, not vice versa.  Any attempt to know our own identity apart from God is fruitless.  I can only know who I am in relation to knowing who he is.  So the more I get to know God, there more likely I am to know my truest and best self, the one made in his image.