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



Friday, May 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!

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.

Sunday, April 14, 2019

a palm sunday prayer

Jesus rode into Jerusalem fully knowing all that awaited him there.  Thus, we too must endure the pain of the cross, in order to experience the joy of the resurrection.

Thank you, Lord Jesus, for riding into Jerusalem—fully knowing all that awaited you there.  Help us, this week, to follow you all the way to the cross, and then on to the empty tomb, that we too may die and be raised to new life.

Saturday, April 6, 2019

prayer is surrender


"When you finally surrender and stop fighting the winds, you will be carried into the eye of God. There. you will rest in peace and learn to see like God." ~Macrina Wiederkehr

Friday, April 5, 2019

tired of waiting

My soul waits for the Lord more than watchmen wait for the morning, more than watchmen wait for the morning. (Psalm 130:6)

A Prayer for those who are tired of waiting:

Okay Lord, let’s be honest.  I am tired of waiting.  So, so tired.  I have waited and waited and waited, until I’m not sure I can wait anymore.  Yet I have to.  I have no other option.  So if you want me to wait some more, you are going to have to give me the ability to do so.  Otherwise, I will just grow bitter and frustrated, dark and depressed.  And I don’t want that any more than you do.  I want to be able to wait like a watchman waiting for the morning, I really do.  And for a time I was able to do that, but I am simply not able to anymore.  I don’t have it in me.  I need your help.  Have mercy on me, O Lord.  Meet me in the midst of this long, long season of waiting.  And if you are not yet going to give me resolution, at least give me yourself.

Wednesday, April 3, 2019

home again

But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him. (Luke 15:20)

O God, how do you see me when I am still a long way off?  When my heart is fearful and consumed with the worries and cares of this life?  Are you heartbroken, longing for me to turn and come home to you, so that you can give me the peace and the comfort I so desperately need?  Are you filled with compassion for me, leaping from the front porch and running through the fields to wrap your arms of love and care around me, and bring me into the joy and delight of your house once again?  Are you so full of affection for me that you can’t keep your hands from my hair or your lips from my cheeks?

O Father, it is so easy to get lost in this life, so easy to lose track of who I am and whose I am.  In the midst of the brokenness and the pain of this world, it is easy to lose track of your care and your provision.  It is easy to start believing that I am alone and it is all up to me.  O Father, even this day I know I will get lost again amidst the flurry of activity.  Circumstances and chaos will rear their ugly heads and sweep over me, and I will forget your love and your care.  O God, when that happens today, please come and find me.  When I am still a long way off, leave the comfort of your house and come running to me.  Wrap your arms of love and mercy around me and, once again, bring me home.  Allow me to come and rest in the warmth and safety of your loving embrace.  For you are my home.

Monday, April 1, 2019

pursued

Surely goodness and love will follow me all of the days of my life. (Psalm 23:6) 

It is so easy to skim right over this line, if we are not careful, and miss the beauty and the mystery and depths and the truth of what is actually being said.  So often we fall into the trap of believing that we are the ones pursuing an elusive God, rather than realizing that it is actually he who is pursuing us.  And this one realization can make all of the difference in the world.  It can make a difference in how we see God, how we feel about him, how we think he feels about us, and, thus, how we relate to him.

If we think that we are the pursuers and God is the pursued, we are likely to live our lives in anger and frustration and despair and doubt and uncertainty, due to our perception that, no matter how hard we try, God often seems either extraordinarily distant, or absent altogether.  He doesn’t often show up in the ways we want or need (or think we need) or demand.  So that either means that he does not care, or that we are doing something wrong.  Both of which create distance between us, rather than the intimacy both we and God long for.

But what if God is actually the pursuer, and we are the pursued?  What does that tell us about his heart?  And what does it tell us about our worth and value?  And how does it change the way we see him and relate to him?  My guess is that it makes an enormous difference.  For when we truly see ourselves as the Sought After (Isaiah 62:12), it does something deep and beautiful in our hearts.  It draws us and woos toward the One who made us fearfully and wonderfully, and loves us so much that he cannot possibly stay away from us, but promises to pursue us to the ends of the earth.  I suppose that’s why so many saints and pilgrims of old have called him the Hound of Heaven.  For he is the One relentlessly in pursuit of us.  As Thomas Kelly once said: “The Hound of Heaven is on our track, the God of Love is wooing us to His Holy Life.”

Which brings us to our verse in the psalm: “Surely goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life.” (Psalm 23:6)  The word translated here as follow, is the Hebrew word radaph, which means to run after, chase after, or pursue earnestly.  In fact, in 1 Samuel 26:20 it is translated, to hunt: “As one hunts for a partridge in the mountains.”  Thus, the God of goodness and love pursues us, his beloved.  He runs after us, chases after us, and tracks us down all the days of our lives.  We are no longer the hunter—looking and searching all over for the elusive God—but the hunted.  God is pursuing us with his unfailing, relentless love and care.  And he will not stop until we have been completely captured by him—until we have been seized by the power of the Great Affection.  Thanks be to God!

Friday, March 29, 2019

hope now

“O Israel, put your hope in the Lord, both now and forevermore.”  Did you get that?  Both now and forevermore.  I don’t know about you, but I usually don’t have too much trouble putting my hope in the Lord for the forevermore part; it is the now part that tends to give me trouble.  

I mean, what does it even look like to put your hope in the Lord right now anyway?  Especially in the midst of trying to care for aging parents or trying to save money for retirement or trying to navigate a significant life transition.  What does it look like to put your hope in the Lord in the midst of college decisions or interpersonal conflicts or health issues?  What does it look like to put your hope in the Lord when your marriage is falling apart or when your kids are in pain or when you receive a life-altering diagnosis or you are filled with anxiety and depression?  I mean, if we can’t put our hope in the Lord right now, how will we ever really be able to put our hope in him forevermore?

Help us, O Lord, to put our hope in you.  We cannot do it on our own.  Remind us, each minute of each day, that you are both strong and loving.  Hold us in your loving embrace that we might be still and calm and secure, even in the midst of chaos or calamity.  You are our God.  Help us to truly trust in you.  Amen. 

Wednesday, March 27, 2019

the good way



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)
     You’ve got to love the image.  It reminds me of the last scene from Castaway—standing at a crossroads, looking one way and then the next, trying to determine which way to go.  It is so indicative of life, and those moments in life when we are in need of guidance and direction.  It is at those times when we often find our way to this verse in Jeremiah.  And why not?  After all, it is such a rich and helpful image.
     But maybe the big mystery here lies not in determining which way we should go, not in figuring out what and where the good way is, but in deciding whether or not we are willing to walk in it.  It is not so much a question of discernment as it is a question of willingness.  It is not as much about a destination as it is about a journey.  After all, we are encouraged by Jeremiah to ask for the ancient paths, to ask where the good way is, and to walk in it.  It seems to me that the ancient paths have never changed and probably never will.  That’s why they’re ancient, right?  They are the paths that the saints and pilgrims and poets of all times and in all centuries have walked before us.  They are those well-worn, time-honored practices by which believers throughout the course history have walked with God.  They are things like prayer and fasting and meditating on God’s word.  They are stillness and silence and solitude.  They are worship and sacrament and community.  That is the good way.  It is not mysterious or elusive.  It is right there in front of us.  The way we walk with God has never changed and never will.  The only question is, are we willing to walk in it?  Or will we keep right on trying to figure it out and make it on our own?

O God, so often we know the way we should go, we are just unwilling to actually go there.  We are constantly looking and asking for an easier, more convenient way.  Maybe that’s why at times we stand at the crossroads for longer than we should—simple unwillingness.  Give us the strength and the courage, O God, to follow you wherever you may lead.  Amen.

Saturday, March 23, 2019

the how of unity

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 robes.  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)

I love the description of what life is like when God’s people live together in unity.  It is so rich and beautiful and inviting.  It is so vibrant and healthy and life-giving.  Who wouldn’t want to be a part of a community like that?  The problem is that the psalm never tells us how to do that.  And the how seems to be the elusive part, especially in this broken and chaotic world.  How do we live together in such a way that it causes God to bestow his blessing, even life forevermore?

Maybe it has something to do with who we are to be to each other.  Maybe it has something to do with consistently showing up with each other—listening, being truly present, paying attention, really seeing and hearing each other.  And maybe it has something to do with creating a place and a space of belonging and acceptance, a safe space where each of us can come out of hiding and be real and vulnerable with one another, without the fear of being judged or fixed or attacked or criticized.  Maybe it involves a commitment to speak love into each other’s deepest fears.  Maybe true community is to be a place that creates in each of us a desire to become more. 

But I think that living in community also involves a refusal to act out of the old self and its practices (Col. 3:9).  It involves a refusal to attack and criticize and judge.  It involves a refusal to protect and rationalize and defend.  It involves a refusal to blame and disparage and belittle.  It involves a refusal to hide and to cover and to posture.  It involves a refusal to create a narrative for (or about) someone else.  It means that we give each other the benefit of the doubt and refuse to assign motives or intent to someone else.  It involves a willingness and a commitment to take off our old self and its practices, while refusing to try and rip the old self off of others.  

True community is a place and a space where we are all invited into the beauty and the life and the abundance of the new.  It is a place where we become—and help others become—our best (truest) selves.  Now that really is good and pleasant!

Show us how, O God, to live together in unity.  Otherwise we will only be able to read about the benefits of doing so, without ever experiencing its reality.  Help us, O Lord.  Have mercy on us.  Amen.

Friday, March 22, 2019

old and new


“You have taken off your old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator.” (Colossians 3:9-10, NIV) 

If we truly want to live life in Jesus, we must be willing to take off the old before we can put on the new.  It’s not rocket science.  It’s kind of how clothing is supposed to work.  You can’t put something new on, until you are willing to take the old off.  If you do not, you will just end up with layers upon layers upon layers of old buried beneath the “new.” I wonder if this isn’t the cause of so many of our problems in our spiritual lives.

But it even goes a little further than that.  We are not only supposed to take off the old self, we are also supposed to take off its practices—all of the ways and the patterns associated with how the old self continues to reveal itself in our lives.  All of the patterns and practices of control and manipulation and self-protection.  All of the ways our anxieties and insecurities and fear take shape in our lives and in our relationships.  All of the ways our needy souls grasp for attention and affirmation and significance and belonging.  We are to take off everything that tends to make us the worst (false) version of ourselves.  All of that must be taken off, lest it get covered over and hidden underneath the shiny covering that we tend to show to the world.

I think Eugene Peterson said it well when he wrote: “You’re done with that old life. It’s like a filthy set of ill-fitting clothes you’ve stripped off and put in the fire. Now you’re dressed in a new wardrobe. Every item of your new way of life is custom-made by the Creator, with his label on it. All the old fashions are now obsolete.” (The Message)

Lord Jesus, thank you that you long to make me new.  Help me to have the courage and the strength to take off the old, in order to make that possible.  Amen.


Thursday, March 21, 2019

wait for the Lord

I wait for the Lord, my souls waits, and in his word I put my hope.  My soul waits for the Lord more than watchmen wait for the morning, more than watchmen wait for the morning.  O Israel, put your hope in the Lord. (Psalm 130:5-7, NIV)

I’m beginning to wonder if I have any idea what it really means to wait for the Lord.  Oh sure, I can start out just fine, but after a while I start to get antsy and impatient, as if everything depended on me rather than him.  Then I start to take hold of things and start to initiate things, trying to form or shape or manufacture them into what I think they should be.  Sorry, but that is definitely not waiting for the Lord!

Waiting for the Lord means just that—waiting.  It means that God is the initiator and I am the responder—even in prayer.  My job is to wait for him to move and to stir, and then to ask him what it looks like to join that moving and stirring, rather than trying to control or manipulate it.  After all, it is his work, not mine.  Heaven forbid that in my zeal to do something—anything—I would actually get in the way of what he was trying to do.  Which I’m sure I have done more often that I’d care to admit.

Waiting is not like that at all.  Waiting for the Lord means that I must pay careful attention to what is going on around me and within me, so that I can recognize his voice and his movement when it arises.  My job is not to make it happen, my job is to notice when it is happening, and then to join into that happening in whatever way he directs me to. 

Can you imagine what our lives would look like if we didn’t do anything until he told us to?  Can you imagine what a different world that would be?  Could you imagine all of the wasted motion and energy that might be saved and harnessed and used for the building of his kingdom rather than our own?

O Lord, help us to learn what it means to truly wait for you, and then help us to do it.

Wednesday, March 20, 2019

many seeds

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. (John 12:23-24)

In God’s economy death is not the end, it merely makes room for new life. And ultimately God is always about bringing new life—it’s simply who he is.  Unfortunately, in those seasons of dying it is often hard to recognize the seeds of new life that are being sewn.  Sometimes we can only see and come to appreciate them in retrospect.

What is God trying to put to death in you these days, in order to make room for new life?  What is the kernel that must fall to the ground and die, in order that it might produce many seeds?

Tuesday, March 19, 2019

must

Must.  Jesus used that word a lot.  “The Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected.  He must be killed and after three days rise again.  If anyone would come after me he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.” (Mark 8:31, 34)

Yet in spite of how many times Jesus used the word must, we still try to take it out of the conversation, or at the very least try to soften it and water it down.  We have never been real big on musts.  In fact, we like to turn must into may whenever possible; taking away its necessity and replacing it with more of an optional quality.  But there is no option in must.  There is no space left for preference or discretion.  With must we are given no latitude or leeway.  Must means must.  It doesn’t offer any wiggle room.

We want to be the ones to determine our musts and not have someone determine them for us, which is the essence of sin itself.  We prefer to call the shots.  We, like Simon Peter, prefer to determine what and how and when things should happen.  Yet when we do that we receive the same rebuke: “Get behind me Satan! You do not have in mind the things of God, but the things of man.” (Mark 8:33)

O Lord Jesus, have mercy on us.  It seems like we are always getting in the way of what you are trying to do.  Forgive us when we produce gray areas where no gray exists.  Forgive us when we try to soften or water down the things you tell us we must do in order to truly follow you.  Give us the grace and the strength and the courage to embrace them instead.  Help us, Lord Jesus, to let you determine the musts in our lives.  You are much better at it than we are.