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.


Monday, March 18, 2019

living and dying

“For through the law I died to the law so that I might live for God.  I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me.  The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” (Gal. 2:19-20)

During this season of Lent it is always good to remind ourselves that because of Jesus we are not called to die just for the sake of dying, but to die for the sake of living.  It is the death of the false, in order to live more and more fully in the truth.  It is the death of self, in order that Jesus might live more fully in and through us.  It is the death of the old and the tired and the broken and the worn out, in order to live anew in the beauty and vibrancy and fullness of the power of the Spirit.  Therefore, it is a death we should welcome and embrace, rather than avoid at all costs, because it is a death that brings life.

Lord Jesus, how are you asking me to die today, in order that you might live more fully in and through me?  Give me the strength and the courage and the grace to do just that.  Amen.

Sunday, March 17, 2019

arabia

But when God, who set me apart from birth and called me by his grace, was pleased to reveal his Son in me so that I might preach him among the Gentiles, I did not consult any man, nor did I go up to Jerusalem to see those who were apostles before I was, but I went immediately into Arabia and later returned to Damascus. (Galatians 1:15-17)

So after Paul had his encounter with Jesus on the road to Damascus, he went immediately into Arabia.  What’s up with that?  You would think that he would hit the streets, telling anyone and everyone about the incredible encounter he’d just had with the Living Christ.  But that’s not what he did at all.  Instead, he went immediately into Arabia.  An interesting move to say the least.  After all, what was in Arabia?  The answer—absolutely nothing.  That was the whole point.  He went into the desert, the wilderness, which is exactly what the name Arabia really means.  He went into a place where it was just him and God.  He went into a place where the encounter he’d just had with Jesus could continue to grow and to blossom into all that it was intended to be.  He went into the silence and solitude of the desert to reflect and to prepare and to pray and to listen and to prepare.

You see, the first movement of the spiritual life must always be toward Jesus.  And Arabia is where that takes place.  Arabia is not merely a physical space—although that is definitely part of it—it is a space where we come face to face with Jesus over time.  It is the place where he can get his hands on us and strip us bare of all that is not him in order to make us into all that he desires us to be.  The solitude of Arabia is where we are transformed, equipped, and empowered to be all that God intended us to be and in order to do all that God called us to do.  The doing can’t properly or powerfully take place without the being.  Yes, Paul would go on and preach to the Gentiles, but not before he met Jesus in the extended solitude of Arabia.

The problem is that most of us, unlike Paul, are simply not willing to go there.  But going into Arabia is not a luxury, it is a necessity.  If we ever desire to have ministries that are fruitful and authentic and empowered, we must first spend time in Arabia.  Otherwise, the fullness of what God desires to do in and then through us will never happen.  For if we refuse to go there, our lives and our ministries will always be far less that what God desires them to be.  So let us follow Paul’s example and let the first movement of our lives always be toward Jesus—into Arabia.  It will make all the difference in the world.

Sunday, March 10, 2019

wilderness


Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the desert to be tempted by the devil. (Matthew 4:1)

Why on earth would the Spirit lead Jesus into the wilderness, and why does he lead each of us there still?  I don’t know the full answer to either of those questions, but I have a suspicion that part of it has to do with us learning to hear and to trust and to be led by the voice of God, rather than the voice of the enemy.

In our noisy, chaotic, everyday lives it is sometimes difficult to tell the difference between the voice of the one who would lead us astray and the voice of Love.  But in the wilderness all of the trappings and distractions are stripped away and we are finally able to see things—and hear things—for what they really are.  What seemed so subtle in the frenzy and commotion, becomes stark in the stillness and silence of the wilderness.  Thus, we are much more able to see and hear the difference between the one who came to steal and kill and destroy, and the One who calls us his beloved.

So maybe the wilderness is not such a bad place after all.  Maybe it is not a place to be avoided at all costs.  Maybe it is not a place of scarcity, but a place of abundance.  Maybe it is actually a place where God leads us in order to speak tenderly to us.  Maybe it is a place of transformation.  And maybe, just maybe, by recognizing the difference between the voice of the enemy and the voice of our God in the wilderness, we will, one day, be able to recognize it in our everyday lives.  A man can dream, right?

Lord Jesus, help me to continually know the difference between the voice of the one who seeks to steal and kill and destroy, and the One who calls me his beloved.  May your voice be the one I pay attention to.  May your voice be the one that guides and controls my life.  Let me hear your voice, Lord Jesus, that I may live according to your word.  Amen.

Saturday, March 9, 2019

Journey to the Cross



If you are looking for a companion for Lent (for yourself, your family, your friends, your staff, etc.), my Lenten devotional guide Journey to the Cross is available on Amazon.  Spread the word.  This year, Lent begins on March 6 (Ash Wednesday).

belonging

“For there the Lord bestows his blessing, even life forevermore.” (Psalm 133)  

We all have a deep need to belong.  It is how we were made.  It is woven into our DNA.  It is part of what it means to be made in the image of the Triune God.  When we truly belong, we experience life the way it was intended to be.  And when, for some reason, we feel like we do not belong, it makes us the worst version of ourselves—needy, clingy, demanding, insecure, fearful, etc. 

But before we can ever truly belong to one another, we must first belong to God.  If our need to belong is not first met in him, then we will angrily move toward one another, demanding from each other what we were never intended to fully give.  But if we are able, by God’s grace, to find our sense of belonging first in him, then we can experience the beauty and the blessing of community spoken of in Psalm 133; the kind of community in which God bestows his blessing, even life forevermore.

Then we can finally move beyond ourselves and consider how to help make others feel like they belong as well.  Then we can start to consider how we can invite them to belong more deeply to Jesus.  And how we can invite them to more deeply belong to one another.  Then we can dream about how we can create spaces of belonging, both within us and among us, so that people are draw to our community like moths to a flame.  For only then will our life together be like precious oil poured on the head, running down on the beard—fragrant, rich, healing soothing.  For only then will our community be like the dew of Hermon falling on Mount Zion.  For only then will our community be something worth belonging to.


Lord God, thank you that, ultimately, I belong to you.  And because I belong to you, I can freely belong to others.  Help me, O Lord, to be a part of your desire to bring others into the full knowledge of that belonging—first to you and then to each other.  In the name of Jesus I pray.  Amen.

Thursday, March 7, 2019

at just the right time

At just the right time. (Romans 5:6)  What a loaded phrase.  And one I struggle with pretty regularly.  You see, my definition of the right time and God’s definition of the right time are often very different from each other.  And when they are, how do I respond?  Do I demand and control and manipulate?  Do I sulk and whine and complain?  Or do I worry and fret and agonize?  Am I be filled with fear and doubt or am I filled with faith and trust? 

As hard as it is for me to admit at times, God is the only one who always does things at just the right time.  When will I ever learn?  When will I finally get on board with his plans, rather than trying to push my own?

We cannot dictate the timing of how or when God will act, we can only be sure that he will.  And if we can let go of trying to manipulate and control that, life will be much more enjoyable in the meantime.

Thank you, Lord Jesus, that your timing is always "just the right time."  Help me to trust that today and every day.  Amen.

Tuesday, March 5, 2019

Lent 2019

Lent starts tomorrow, don't let it sneak up on you.  Start considering now how God is inviting you to live over these next days and weeks.  He wants to do something powerful and profound in your heart and life, if you will make time and space for it to happen.

Consider now what God might be asking you to let go of.  And consider also what God might be inviting you to take hold of.  How will these next days and weeks make you more aware of your sin and brokenness in a way that makes you more aware of the heights and depths and breadth of his incredible love?