Thursday, December 31, 2020

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



Tuesday, November 17, 2020

keeping it real

“Then I acknowledged my sin to you and did not cover up my iniquity.  I said, ‘I will confess my transgressions to the Lord’—and you forgave the guilt of my sin.” (Psalm 32:5) 

It is amazing what living openly and honestly with ourselves, our God, and one another will do for us, if we are courageous enough to do it.  That’s why confession is so important; it does not lead to guilt and shame, but to freedom and joy.

But still we hide.  We hide our sin, we fail to acknowledge our weakness, and we cover up our flaws and our failures.  And, thus, we end up alone.  Dietrich Bonhoeffer said it so well: “Pious fellowship permits no one to be a sinner.  So everyone must conceal his sin from himself and from the fellowship.  We dare not be sinners.  Many Christians are unthinkably horrified when a real sinner is suddenly discovered among the righteous.  So we remain alone in our sin, living in lies and hypocrisy.  The fact is that we are sinners!”  We live as prisoners in our own lives, not as those who have been redeemed and set free.  As one of my good friends once said: “God can’t help fake people, only real ones.”

So we must somehow learn to live real lives before ourselves, before one another, and before our God.  We must be willing to live from the truth of our inner being, whatever it may be.  We must be brave enough to put our real selves out there on a regular basis, and let our God and our friends get their hands, and their hearts, involved in our mess.  That is the only way it can ever be redeemed and transformed.  We must learn to keep it real.  That’s what confession is all about.  It is meant to help redeem and restore us.  It is meant to lead us to joy and freedom:  Rejoice in the Lord and be glad, you righteous; sing, all you who are upright in heart!”  So let’s start today! 

Help me, O Lord, to live a real life today, not a fake one.  Give me the strength and the grace and the courage to come out of hiding and live openly and honestly with you, with myself, and with my community.  For only then can I live in the joy and the freedom you created me for.  Amen.

Monday, November 16, 2020

a prayer to care

Forgive me, O Lord, for the things I care too much about—and the things I don’t.  Forgive me that I’m more concerned with being right than I am with being loving, I’m more concerned with being comfortable than I am with being compassionate, I’m more concerned with being liked than I am with being genuine, and I’m more concerned with my kingdom than I am with yours.  Lord, have mercy!

Help me to totally surrender myself to you, so that I will not be consumed with the petty and the passing, but will only care about the things that matter most to you.  

“Show me you ways, O Lord, teach me your paths; guide me in your truth and teach me, for you are God my Savior, and my hope is in you all day long.  Remember, O Lord, your great mercy and love, for they are from old.  Remember not the sins of my youth and my rebellious ways; according to your love remember me, for you are good, O Lord.” (Psalm 25:4-7)

Saturday, November 14, 2020

i am making

rev. 21:5

i am making
all things new 

not
have made

or even
will make

but am making

therefore
look for the new
i am making
both within
and around you

Tuesday, November 10, 2020

when you pass through the waters

The Greek tragedian, Aeschylus, once said: “He who learns must suffer.  And even in our sleep pain, which cannot forget, falls drop by drop upon the heart, until, in our despair, against our will, comes wisdom through the awful grace of God.”  Sounds like Aeschylus read Isaiah 43.

God never promised that we would not have to pass through the waters or walk through the fires of this life. (Isaiah 43:1-7) In fact, he promised just the opposite; he promised that we would.  But he did say that when the waters rise and the flames blaze, he would be with us.  He promised that the waters would not sweep over us and that the flames would not set us ablaze because we are precious and honored in his sight and he loves us.  Therefore, we do not have to live in fear.  God is trustworthy.  He is accomplishing something very good in us as a result of the waters and the flames; something that could be accomplished in no other way.  We might not be able to see it right now, but one day all of our pain and all of our sorrow and all of our suffering and struggling will be redeemed.  Thanks be to God!

Where are you passing through the waters or walking through the fires these days?  Where is God in the midst of it all?  Do you sense his presence?  What do you think he’s up to?

Thank you, O Lord, that when we pass through the waters, you will be with us.  Thank you that when we pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over us.  Thank you that when we walk through the fire, we will not be burned; the flames will not set us ablaze, because you are with us.  Give us the strength and the courage and the grace to believe that.  Amen.

Wednesday, November 4, 2020

Watch and Wait


Don't forget Watch and Wait if you are looking for a good companion for yourself, your friends, your church, your staff, your small group, etc. for Advent and Christmas.  Advent begins on Sunday, November 29.

Saturday, October 31, 2020

wild abandon

There is a love that is filled with wild abandon.  It is the kind of love that throws caution to the wind.  The kind of love that holds nothing back.  The kind of love that takes a jar of costly perfume, breaks it, and pours every drop upon the head of Jesus. (Mark 14:1-9) It is a love that has no regard for self, a love that does not ask, “What’s in it for me?”  It is a love that cannot contain itself.  The kind of love that fills the heart to overflowing in such a way that it has no choice but to pour itself out on the One who is both the source and the object of that affection.

It is also a love that evokes a strong reaction from those looking on.  Those who wish they had the courage and the passion to do that very thing themselves, but were unwilling to do so.  Instead, they stand at a distance, they rebuke and hurl insults.  They comment and criticize.  If they cannot bring themselves up to a love that is so demanding and so complete, then they will just bring the lovers down.  These rebukers are the ones who are unwilling to let go, unwilling to abandon all, unwilling to love and be loved so fully and completely.  

The contrast is stark, and meant to invite each of us to consider our own love.  Do we love Jesus that way?  Are we willing to let go of all, no matter what the cost?  Are we willing to pour everything out, every single drop?  Are we so completely seized by the power of his great affection that we hold nothing back?  And is anything less really love at all?

Wednesday, October 28, 2020

God alone

It is no accident that, in the Hebrew, Psalm 62 begins with the words: “Only for God.”  Those words set the tone and the theme for the rest of the psalm—God alone.  For God alone, my soul waits in silence.  My soul finds rest in God alone.  He alone is my rock and my salvation.  Find rest, O my soul, in God alone.  Only when we are trusting in God alone will we be living the life God most wants us to live.

Unfortunately, most often we tend to live for God and, rather than God alone.  God and comfort, God and ease, God and work, God and success, God and my own tastes and preferences; the list is endless.  It is the and that causes many, if not most, of our problems.  In the words of A. W. Tozer: “In the and is our great woe.  If we omit the and we shall soon find God.”  For it is impossible to seek God and something else; it is impossible to follow Jesus and someone else.  We must eliminate the and.  Most of the spiritual journey involves moving from God and to God alone.  In fact, that is the definition of true freedom—moving from God and to God alone.  

So why do we keep holding on to the and?

Saturday, October 24, 2020

taking the next step

At the very beginning of the book of Psalms, this wonderful collection of timeless prayers, we are given a bit of a roadmap for the entire spiritual journey.  And one of the main things this ancient guide tells us is that when we stop moving forward in our life with God, we are in big trouble. 

“Blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked or stand in the way of sinners or sit in the seat of scoffers,” says the ancient prayer. (Psalm 1:1)  Thus, the life that is blessed—happy, prosperous, and all it was intended to be—is a life in which we are constantly moving towards God.  One in which we do not allow anything to stop, impede, or distract us.  For the world, the flesh, and the devil would love to try to make us give up on this sacred journey.  They would love for us to stop moving altogether—to go from walking to standing to sitting—because stagnation in the spiritual life always comes from a lack of movement.  When we stop moving forward, we actually end up going backwards.  There is no neutral in life with God; you are either growing or you are dying.  We can only tread water for so long before we start to sink.

The life that God blesses involves a constant movement in his direction.  It involves constantly delighting in and meditating on the words and character of God.  It involves a continual awareness of his presence and an ongoing engagement with his Spirit.  In order for our souls to prosper, we must be continually moving in his direction, taking that next step.  Thus, it is no accident that the word prosper in the Hebrew literally means to move forward.

What is the current movement of your life with God?  How are you intentionally moving towards him each day?  What is your next step in your life with him?  Will you take it?

Show us, O Lord, where and how we have stopped moving in your direction.  Show us those places in our lives where we have allowed ourselves to become complacent, stagnant, and lifeless.  Get us up on our feet, O Lord, and help us to start moving in your direction.  For only then will we be able to experience the life that you call blessed.  Amen.

Friday, October 16, 2020

sowing in tears

“Those who sow in tears will reap with songs of joy.” (Psalm 126:5) 

What is it about “sowing in tears?”  Why not sowing in joy, or sowing in comfort, or sowing in ease?  What is it about tears that makes the harvest so much more fruitful?  What is it about pain that produces more sheaves within us, among us, and around us?

The Greek tragedian, Aeschylus, once said: “He who learns must suffer. And even in our sleep pain, which cannot forget, falls drop by drop upon the heart, until, in our own despair, against our will, comes wisdom through the awful grace of God.”

Somehow, in God’s economy, tears and pain produce the most fertile soil for growth.  Our most painful seasons and experiences become the best seedbeds for future harvest.  In those times, God accomplishes things deep within us that could be accomplished in no other way—if we are open and willing.  Sowing in tears can bring about a harvest of righteousness.

So in your times of deepest sorrow and sadness, do not despair, God is up to something. He can and will bring about a harvest in due time.  One day, if you are faithful to keep on sowing, tears and all, you will return with songs of joy, carrying sheaves with you. One day.

Wednesday, October 14, 2020

surrounded

 “The Lord’s unfailing love surrounds the man who trusts in him.” (Psalm 32:10)

What does it look like, this surrounded life?  A life where we are safe to live and to breathe and to work and to play and to rest in his loving care.  A life where there is no need to hide, nor jockey, nor posture, nor defend, nor perform.  A life where we are held safe in the strong and loving arms of the Divine Trinity and are invited into their great round dance of love.

Can you imagine the beauty and the delight of such a life?  A life in which we, as Thomas Kelly so beautifully described, are held in “a Holy Center where the breath and stillness of Eternity are heavy upon us and we are wholly yielded to Him.”

That’s the life God most wants for us. That’s the life we were created to live.  The only thing keeping us from it, is us.  We must decide that that’s the life we want, and move toward it.  We must stop trying to do it all on our own and turn to him. We must open ourselves up completely to his love and his care, and trust our entire being to him. He will do the rest.

Monday, October 12, 2020

the question

 “What do you want me to do for you?” (Mark 10:36, 51)

Just leave it up to you, Lord Jesus, to ask us the one question we should be asking you.  For this life is not about us. Forgive us when we get it backwards and think that it is. Forgive us when we so consumed with our own issues and agendas that we forget we are not the point, you are.  

Help us to be the ones to ask that question today, THE question: “What do you want, Lord Jesus? What do you want us to do for you?“ For life is about your kingdom, not our own.

Friday, October 9, 2020

losing track

“Thinking he was in their company, they travelled on for a day.’ (Luke 2:44) 

It is so easy to lose track of Jesus.  And it’s not just us, even his parents did it.  You know what I’m talking about.  We get so preoccupied with our own activities and concerns and agendas that somehow they become primary and Jesus becomes secondary.  Then, before we know it, we’ve travelled a couple of days without him and haven’t even realized it.  We have gotten so wrapped up in own business that we have forgotten about him completely.

The problem is that we tend to let other things—seemingly urgent things—take up the foreground of our lives, while we, knowingly or unknowingly, move Jesus (the most important thing) to the background.  Other things become focal and Jesus becomes peripheral.  And once we lose sight of Jesus, it is hard to even notice that he’s not there.  Out of sight, out of mind.

Therefore, we must pay careful attention.  We must not allow our schedules and our hurry and our busyness to lull us to sleep.  We must stay awake and alert.  We must have eyes to see Jesus and ears to hear Jesus even in the tiniest little details of our lives.  For Jesus is not imperious or domineering.  He is not overbearing or oppressive.  He will stand and knock, but he will not bust down the door.  He waits to be noticed and invited in.  He will not compete for the time and attention that is rightfully his.  It is up to us to figure out how to keep him in the foreground of our lives.  He is always to be primary, not secondary.  And, in order for us to live the lives he created us to live, he must remain focal rather than peripheral.

Tuesday, October 6, 2020

hiding

Hiding is an interesting phenomenon.  It is the art of concealing or covering oneself.  It comes about as a result of fear—a fear of danger, a fear of harm, or a fear of being exposed.

There was no hiding before the fall.  The man and the woman were with God in the garden and they were naked and unashamed. (Genesis 2:25) But only ten short verses later (Genesis 3:10), that very same man and woman find themselves hiding from the Lord their God.  “I was afraid, because I was naked, so I hid.”  And, thus, hiding and covering has been a way of life ever since.

Which brings us to Psalm 32, a close companion of Psalm 51.  It is an ancient prayer of David describing what happens when we hide and cover up, and what happens when we stop hiding and turn to God.  “When I kept silent, my bones wasted away through my groaning all day long.  For day and night your hand was heavy upon me; my strength was sapped as in the heat of summer,” David says. (Psalm 32:3-4) But then he came out of hiding and “acknowledged my sin to you and did not cover up my iniquity.” (Psalm 32:5) That’s when the life and the breath and the peace reentered his soul once again.  So much so that he then states, “You are my hiding place; you will protect me from trouble and surround me with songs of deliverance.” (Psalm 32:7)  Thus, in two short verses, David is able to go from hiding from God, to hiding in God.  And if that wasn't enough, the psalm even goes on to say that "the Lord surrounds the man who trust in him." (Psalm 32:10) Absolutely remarkable!

And that is our invitation as well.  We all hide.  We hide from God, we hide from each other, and we even hide from ourselves.  Like Adam and Eve, we spend most of our lives sewing together fig leaves in order to hide our nakedness and our shame.  And it is exhausting!  We long to live lives of authenticity.  We long to live lives that are genuine and true.  We long to get back to the Garden where we can stand before God, and each other, naked and unashamed, the way we were created to be.

God offers the same invitation to us that he offered to King David: “Come on.  Come to me.  Stop hiding from me and start hiding in me.  Let me be your hiding place.  Let me be the one who loves you, provides for you, and protects you.  Let me be the one who delivers you.  Let me surround you with my unfailing love and care.  Let me be your safe place.  True safety is only possible in me.”   

O Rock of Ages, cleft for me, let me hide myself in Thee.  Today and every day.  Amen.

Friday, October 2, 2020

fear and love

“But from everlasting to everlasting the Lord’s love is with those who fear him. . . .” (Psalm 103:17)  

What an odd combination: love and fear.  Normally, we think about fear as the enemy of love (see 1 John 4:18), but that must not always be true.  For, time after time, particularly in the Old Testament, we are encouraged to fear the Lord.  In fact, we are told in the Proverbs that the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom. (Proverbs 9:10)  And here, in Psalm 103, we are actually told that the Lord’s great love is with those who fear him.  So there must be a type of fear that is not the enemy of love, but an intimate friend.  A fear that doesn’t drive love away, but actually increases and deepens it.

It is the kind of fear that John (the disciple whom Jesus loved) exhibited when he encountered the Living, Glorified, Eternal Jesus, whose face was like the sun shining in all its brilliance, in Revelation 1:16.  John’s response to seeing that Jesus was to fall down at his feet as though dead. (Revelation 1:17)  It is the kind of fear that Simon Peter voiced in the middle of a boat full of fish in Luke 5:8, when he said “Depart from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man.”  If is the kind of fear that sees the glory and the power and the bigness of our God.  It is the kind of fear that Job was overcome by after God showed up in power (in Job 40 and 41), asking Job a series of questions that he could not answer.  Job’s only response was: “My ears had heard of you but now my eyes have seen you.  I therefore repent in dust and ashes.” (Job 42:5) It is the kind of fear that actually makes love increase.  The kind of fear that shows us just how big and wonderful and powerful and glorious our God really is.

I am afraid that, all too often, we miss that kind of fear because we remove it from the picture.  We focus on the immanence of God, at the expense of his transcendence.  We focus only on the God who is with us, rather than also on the God who is high and lifted up.  We try to reduce God to our image, instead of remembering that we were made in his.  We get so comfortable with God that we tame him.  We remove the qualities and characteristics of God that scare us, or make us uncomfortable, in an effort to make him manageable and understandable.  We try to bring him down to our size, rather than allowing him to be the big and wild and free and holy and powerful and untamable God that he is.

Somehow we need to realize that fear and love are not an either or proposition, but a both and.  Somehow we need to recapture the glory and the awe and the magnificence of God’s transcendence, without sacrificing the beauty of his immanence.  Because this kind of fear is not the enemy of love, but its friend.

O Lord our God, high and holy, yet near and present, help us to honor both your transcendence and your immanence, as we come before you this day.  Thank you that somehow they are not enemies, but intimate friends; not opposites, but compliments.  Both of them help us to see a part of you that must always be seen, experienced, and acknowledged.  Give us the wisdom to know how to hold them together.  Amen. 

Wednesday, September 30, 2020

My Newest Book


JUST RELEASED!!!  Been working on this book for a number of years and glad it is finally available on Amazon.  Schola Caritatis: Learning the Rhythms of God's Amazing Love
It contains the stories, practices, and content of the Spiritual Formation class I've been teaching for the last 10+ years.  Spread the word!!!

Monday, September 28, 2020

afraid to be loved

What if the main reason we fail to love God as we ought is because we are afraid to be fully loved by him?  The scriptures make it clear that we love because he first loved us (1 John 4:19), so our love for him can only be a reflection of and response to our own first-hand knowledge of his divine love for us.  Thus, if we fail to encounter and experience God’s love fully, then we will fail to love him fully in return.

But why on earth would we be afraid to experience the passion, depths, and delight of God’s extravagant love?  Who knows?  Maybe it’s too intense.  Maybe we are afraid it will be too much for us.  As a dear friend of mine once said, “If God was any more intimate with me, I don’t think I could stand it.”  Or maybe it’s too demanding.  Maybe it requires something of us that we are not sure we will be able to give.  That kind of love can only be experienced through total surrender and wild abandon.  Unfortunately, surrender and abandon have never been our strong suit.  Or maybe it’s all about control.  Maybe our hesitation to be fully loved by God has more to do with the fact that his love just puts us so out of control.  As a friend and mentor used to pray, “O Lord, I want to know the depths of your delight and affection, but please promise to be gentle with me.”    

We want passionate intimacy with God, but it also kind of scares us.  We are drawn to it and hesitant of it at the same time.  Yet, our only hope of ever being able to love God as we ought, lies in us opening ourselves up to being fully loved by him.  It will come only when we are able to truly pray, “Here I am, O Lord, have your way with me.”

O Lord, unless I let you fully love me, I will never be able to fully love you.  Give me the courage and the grace and the strength to let you have your way with me.  Amen.

Sunday, September 27, 2020

the refusal to rest

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.  Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.  For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11:28-30)

I have a sneaking suspicion that the reason we do not experience the rest that Jesus offers is because we simply refuse to do so.  I don’t know, maybe it’s pride, maybe it’s fear, maybe it’s need, maybe it’s control, or maybe it’s all of the above, but for some reason we consistently refuse the rest that God calls us to. 

Just look at the scriptures.  “This is what the Sovereign Lord, the Holy One of Israel says: ‘In repentance and rest is your salvation, in quietness and trust is your strength, but you would have none of it.’” (Isaiah 30:15) Or, “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) Or, “There remains, then, a Sabbath-rest for the people of God; for anyone who enters God’s rest also rests from his own work, just as God did from his.  Let us, therefore, make every effort to enter that rest, so that no one will fall by following their example of disobedience.” (Hebrews 4:11)

But why on earth would we refuse to enter into God’s rest?  I think Matthew 11:28-30 holds a bit of a clue.  In order to enter into God’s rest we must first come to him, which few of us seem to have a problem with, and then we must take his yoke upon us, which is much more difficult.  That’s because we can’t take on his yoke, until we have taken off our own, whatever it may be.  That seems to be where the refusal comes in, we are simply unwilling to take off our own yoke in order to take on the light and free and well-fitting yoke of Jesus.  Therefore, we are forever burdened and weary and exhausted from continually trying to do it ourselves.

Basically it all comes down to trust.  Do we really trust that God is enough for us, and that he will give us everything we need?  Love, affirmation, significance, security, etc.  And do we really believe that God is wise enough and loving enough and powerful enough to take care of things without us?  Or maybe that’s the issue, maybe we are terrified that he will.  Who knows?

Whatever the case, each of us must face our own resistance to God’s rest, as well as our refusal to enter into it.  And after we face it, we must name it.  Then we must repent of it.  We must be willing to take off our own yoke and take on his.  Otherwise, we will never experience the rest and the peace and the wholeness he created us for.

Lord Jesus, why on earth would I every refuse to enter into your rest?  Yet I do.  Maybe it is because I’m so afraid of what will happen if I stop.  But my real fear, I suppose, should be what will happen if I don’t.  Lord, have mercy.  Amen.

 

Saturday, September 26, 2020

and yet another new book



My latest book is now out on Amazon.  It is a twenty-one day contemplative journey through the Gospel of John.  Would be great for a group of folks to go through together.  Here's the link: Into the Heart of God

Friday, September 18, 2020

be free

Don’t give fear, anxiety, and insecurity the power to steal your joy, your laughter, and your freedom today.  “It is for freedom that Christ has set us free.  Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.” 

Fear, anxiety, and insecurity are some of the main predators of the spiritual life.  They will eat up all of your joy and your life and your freedom if you let them.  Don’t let them; that’s the key.  It’s why Paul tells the Galatians to “Stand firm.”  You are not powerless in this struggle.  You have the Spirit of God living within you. 

Lord Jesus, give me the strength and the grace and the courage to stand firm whenever something, or someone, tries to rob me of my joy and laughter and freedom.  You desire me to live freely, and you give me the power to do so.  Help me to live in that truth.  Amen.       

Thursday, September 17, 2020

it is finished

If “It is finished” the way Jesus says it is (John 19:30), then why do I tend to live as if it is not?  Why do I continue to live with the feeling that somehow I still have to earn God’s favor?  Why do I still live as if my value and my worth were still up for grabs?  Why do I continue to live my life desperately trying to prove that I am worth loving?  Why do I continue to allow fear and insecurity and anxiety to control me and rob me of joy and freedom?  Why do I still live so much of my life out of need, rather than out of love?

If “It is finished,” then all of this has already been settled.  Everything is just grace and gratitude.

Thank you, Lord Jesus, that it really is finished.  Help me to live in the joy and freedom of that truth today.  Amen.

Saturday, September 12, 2020

say yes to love

In biblical times, marriages were basically arranged.  But the participants did have some say in the final outcome.  If the groom-to-be was on board with the arrangement, he would go to his future bride’s house and offer her a cup of wine.  It was his way of saying, “I choose you.”  And if the bride was also in agreement with the arrangement, she would then drink the wine, basically saying, “And I choose you.”

After that, the groom would then go back to his father’s house and begin to build a room onto it, where he and his new bride would live.  When all the work was finally completed, the father of the groom would give the okay and the groom-to-be would then make his way back to his future bride’s house.  At that time the bridesmaids, who had been watching and waiting for the groom’s return, would announce his coming.  Then the bride-to-be would go out to meet her groom and everyone would process back to the groom’s house where the wedding feast would begin.

One of the really beautiful parts of this whole process was what the groom would say at his proposal, after the wine had been offered and accepted.  He would say, “Bride to be, in my Father’s house there are many rooms; if it were not so, I would have told you.  I am going there to prepare a place for you.  And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you may also be where I am.”

These are the very words Jesus chose to use in order to tell his followers what one day awaited them—a celebration.  A wedding feast.  You see, God wants intimate union with us.  Union so deep that only the delights of marriage can begin to capture it.  He wants more than just a dutiful, distant relationship.  He wants passion.  He wants longing.  He wants unbridled affection.  That is the kind of life God wants both for and with each of us.  All we have to do is say, “I do.”  All you have to do is say yes to love.  

(from my new book Into the Heart of God: A Journey with Jesus through the Gospel of John, which will hopefully be out in the next few weeks.) 

Friday, September 11, 2020

what is your why

What is your why?  Have you ever stopped to think about that?  Have you ever stopped to consider why it is that you do the things you do?  Whys matter.  They really matter.

Just look at Jesus. (John 13:1-17)  He was getting ready to leave this world.  He was staring at loneliness, abandonment, betrayal, sorrow, suffering, torture, and even crucifixion.  Of all the times when it might seem appropriate, or at least understandable, to do something for yourself, to be motivated by need, he was still thinking of others.  He still chose to be motivated by love. 

All power and all authority had been given to him by the Father, so he set it aside.  He chose to put a towel around his waist, pour water into a basin, and stoop down to wash the disciples’ feet.  Why on earth would he do such a thing?  How on earth could he do such a thing?  The answer to the first question is because of love.  And the answer to the second is because he didn’t need anything from them.  Therefore, he was totally free to love and to serve. 

And the scary thing is that he calls each of us to do the same.  Oh, not merely to wash feet, although that very well may be part of it, but to be free from need in order to love, whatever form that may take.  You see, freedom is not just the ability to do whatever we want to do, it is the ability to become all that we were meant to be—to live and to love the way God intended.

So let’s begin to pray to that end.  Let’s pray that God would give us the strength and the grace and the courage to let our why be love, instead of need.  After all, if it was good enough for Jesus, it should be good enough for us.  Right?

Lord Jesus, help me to be like you.  Help my why always to be love.  Amen.

 

Sunday, September 6, 2020

it all starts with abiding

“If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” (John 8:31-32, ESV)

Believe it or not, the first step towards freedom is abiding.  If we ever have any hope of living a life that is whole and free, it will be because we have learned to abide in Jesus and in his truth.  If it is, in fact, the truth that sets us free, then we better get so familiar with the truth that it simply becomes a part of who we are.  Otherwise, we will constantly be blown around by every wind of opinion and agenda that comes along—and, believe me, there are a lot of that these days.

You see, truth is not relative, it is absolute.  If it were relative, then there would be no truth at all, only anarchy.  Jesus knew that.  And he knew the connection between truth and freedom.  Contrary to popular opinion, freedom does not come from determining our own truth—which is not truth at all—but by living in line with the truth from which, and for which, we were made. 

Thus, Jesus is the truth (see John 14:6), and as we abide in him, and abide in his word, we get to know what the Truth really is.  And then that truth sets us free.  But it all starts with abiding.  If I do not abide in him, and in his word, then I will never know the truth of his divine love and care and delight, and I will never experience the freedom for which I was made.

Saturday, August 29, 2020

haughty eyes

“My heart is not proud, O Lord, my eyes are not haughty; I do not concern myself with great matters or things too wonderful for me.” (Psalm 131:1)

I don’t know about you, but I don’t typically use the word haughty a lot.  Thus, when I come across this word as I pray Psalm 131 each week, I’m not really sure what to do with it.  All I know is that having haughty eyes is something King David wants to avoid at all costs.  That’s probably because, as Proverbs 6:17 tells us, it is one of the things God hates.  Which are pretty strong words.

The word haughty, in the Hebrew, is ruwm, which means to be high actively, to rise or raise, to bring up or exalt (self).  It is very similar in meaning to the word most often translated proud, which is also in this psalm—gabahhGabahh means to rise, or soar.  So the goal of both words is basically the same—the elevation of self—but how it goes about accomplishing that goal is subtly different.  To see the distinction, it is helpful to see the core meaning of the two words in English.  To be haughty, the dictionary tells us, means “to have a big attitude and act like you are better than other people.  A haughty person acts superior and looks down on others.”  So the key difference between pride and haughtiness is that pride focuses too much on self, puffing up, while haughtiness focused too much on others, looking down.  Pride has too high a view of who we are, while haughtiness has too low a view of others.

Strangely enough, it is haughtiness, and not pride, that makes the list of “six things the Lord hates, seven that are detestable to him” in Proverbs 6:17, which is probably because of how haughtiness causes us to treat others.  While pride can cause us to be far too focused on ourselves, haughtiness can cause us to be cruel, dismissive, critical, condescending, and even judgmental of the very people God has called us to love and care for.  It can cause us to belittle them and see them as incapable, inadequate, and insignificant.  It is bad enough when we have a distorted or delusional view of ourselves, but when it causes us to mistreat those who have also been made in God’s image, then it has gone too far.  That is when it really draws God’s ire.

Very wisely, David prayed against both, since one often feeds the other.  He prayed that he would not have an overinflated view of his own importance, or an underinflated view of the worth, value, dignity, and significance of others.  Only then could he be the leader God wanted him to be, a leader who cared more about God’s people than he did about himself.  A leader who was able to be still and quiet before his God, totally content and utterly dependent.  And maybe, just maybe, if I continue to pray his prayer, I will be too.  Well, a man can dream, right?

Lord, my heart is meek before you.  I do not consider myself more important than others.  I am content to not pursue matters that are over my head—such as your complex mysteries and wonders—that I’m not ready to understand.  I am humbled and quieted in your presence.  Like a contented child who rests on its mother’s lap, I’m your resting child and my soul is content in you.  O people of God, your time has come to quietly trust, waiting upon the Lord now and forever. (Psalm 131:1-3, The Passion Translation)

Sunday, August 23, 2020

psalm 23

Lord, my shepherd, you are enough; I don’t need a thing.  Help me to live like it.  

You invite me to stop scurrying around, trying to manipulate and control everything, and ask me to lie down with you in green pastures and sit still with you beside quiet waters.  For one of your greatest desires is the restoration of my soul to its creation intent.  

You invite me to walk through life in a new way, attentive to your voice, and concerned only about your name and your kingdom, rather than my own.  

Even though fear and anxiety are sure to rear their ugly heads again and again, I will not let them control me, for you are with me: you protect me, you provide for me, and you comfort me.  

You invite me to pull up a chair to your table, you soothe my head with healing oil, and you make my heart overflow with love.  

You relentlessly pursue me with your goodness and your love all the days of my life, so that I might live in your divine embrace forever.  

How could I possibly say no to all of that?

Friday, August 21, 2020

need

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 not be shaken. (Psalm 62:1-2)

What do you need in order to be okay?  No, really?  And I’m not looking for the right answer here, but the real one.  Do you need success and achievements and notoriety?  Do you need affection and affirmation?  Do you need financial security?  Do you need others to think well of you?  Do you need to do a good job?  Do you need good health?  Do you need everyone in your family to be thriving and flourishing? 

So, let me ask you again, what do you really need in order to be okay?  The real answer to this question has so much to say about the way we live our lives, because need is not the best foundation to build a life upon; it is tenuous and shaky and ever-changing.  It can fill us with agendas and demands and expectations, often leaving us anxious or depressed or angry or frustrated or all of the above.  Thus, when we build our lives around what we need—or what we think we need—we place ourselves at the mercy of mood, whim, and circumstance.

But when we finally realize that all we really need is “God alone,” everything begins to fall into place.  Oh, not in circumstantial terms maybe, but in terms of our inner landscape—the state of the heart and soul.  The saints called this detachment.  It is the ability to be okay regardless of what is going on around us.  It is not allowing our well-being to get too “attached” to things that can, and will, change, but fully attaching our well-being to the One who never changes—God alone.  Only then will we be the people he created us to be, and only then will we be able to love the way he created us to love.   

Find rest, O my soul, in God alone; my hope comes from him.  He alone is my rock and my salvation; he is my fortress, I will not be shaken.  My salvation and my honor depend on God; He is my mighty rock, my refuge.  Trust in him at all times, O people; pour out your hearts to him, for God is our refuge. (Psalm 62:5-8)

Monday, August 17, 2020

through

   psalm 77:19

if i’m honest
i must admit
that there are times
i would rather just
go around

it’s easier

but your path is 
rarely the easy one
your path always seems
to lead through the sea
through the mighty waters

through must be 
better than around
because through is
the place of dependence
the place of surrender
the place of trust

so may i never miss
the beauty and goodness 
of the way through
by constantly trying
to find a way
around

Wednesday, August 12, 2020

streams

john 7:37-38 

every now and then 
i catch a little taste 
of a larger flow 
that dwells within 

an underground river 
of life and love 
that holds the key 
to all my soul desires 

but why only a taste 
and why only now and then 

is it me or is it you 
have i not yet learned 
how to tap into the flow 
or are you simply 
trying to allure me 
is it your way 
of drawing me 
is it the hope 
of what could be 
or what will be 
beckoning me 
to become 

the hope of the eternal 
welling up from within 
drawing me onward 
ever onward 
into you

Friday, August 7, 2020

being a non-anxious presence

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. (Jeremiah 6:16)

In the midst of the crazy and chaotic times in which we live, what does the world really need from us, the people of God?  Another argument or opinion?  Another agenda or platform?  Another voice of anxiety or anger or frustration or suspicion?  There are an abundance of all of the above, it seems, so why just add another one to the fray?  No one seems to be listening anyway.  In fact, it’s hard to listen when everyone is speaking. 

So what does the world really need from us?  How about a calm, loving, non-anxious presence?  People who are willing to listen, not only to each other, but also to the times, to our lives, and to our God.  People who aren’t trying to protect or attack or defend, but who are looking to love.  People who are not driven by anxiety or insecurity or control or demand, but are driven by compassion.  People who are willing and able to sit still long enough, and be quiet long enough, to have any idea where the Spirit may be leading, or what the Spirit may be up to.  People who are not merely reacting to fears or circumstances or scenarios, but are prayerfully open to whatever the Spirit of God may be doing in and through the chaos.  People whose first response is not to jump, but to pray.  And then, and only then, are willing to act.  That is what the world really needs.

So how do we become that?  How do we become people who are rooted and planted in the love and wisdom of God?  We stop.  We sit still.  We look.  We pray.  We shut our mouths and open our ears.  We listen to God and we listen to each other.  We discern together what he is saying and what he is doing.  And when we arrive at some communal sense of what God is saying and what he is doing, of where the good way is, we walk in it.  We go and do whatever he says.  We love.  We serve.  We live.

Never let me forget, O Lord, that this life is about you and not about me.  Because when I forget that one truth, I end up frustrated and fearful and angry and anxious, rather than loving and caring and compassionate and at peace.  Make me more like you today, so that I’ll be better able to express you in the world.  Amen.

Wednesday, August 5, 2020

moving from micro to macro

What a strange few months it has been.  I don’t know about you, but for me, in these days of global pandemics and calls for social justice, it has been so easy to “miss the forest for the trees,” as the old saying goes.  It is easy for me to become so focused on my own little world and how these things affect (or don’t affect) me personally, that I fail to see the bigger picture.  I fail to step into a higher calling.  I become so concerned and consumed with my own well-being that I fail to see, or even think about, the greater good.  Granted, seeing the greater good, and understanding exactly what it takes to get us there, is way more complicated than I might imagine, but it seems like it is an endeavor that is worth the time and effort and conversation.

We are living in a time and a season where things like wearing masks and canceling sporting events and being asked to stay at home have become a part of the landscape, as has our willingness or unwillingness to adhere to each.  Should bars stay open or should they close?  Should there be football or should there not be?  Should schools reopen or should we only have online learning?  Questions abound.  How on earth are we, as God’s people, supposed to even begin to answer these questions?   

And what about social justice issues?  How have we allowed people who are made in the image of God, with beauty and dignity and purpose, to be cast aside or held down or belittled or marginalized?  And how do we keep creating systems that make it almost impossible for them to thrive and grow and flourish?  When the well-being of one part of society is defended and maintained at the expense of another, should that not repulse us and call us to action? 

Israel wanted a king, so God gave them one.  The king was to be an extension and a representative of God to his people.  The king’s job was to lead and to guide, to provide for and protect and defend.  The king was to be about God’s reign, God’s rule, and God’s kingdom on earth, not his just own.  One of the main ways the king was supposed to do this was by assuring justice (mishpat) and righteousness (tsedeq) for all (see Psalm 72).  Justice meaning that the standards of the kingdom were to be applied equally and fairly to everyone.  And righteousness literally meaning to be straight, or that everyone and everything would be as it was meant to be; everyone is given the opportunity to be exactly who and what God intended them to be—in right relationship with him and in right relationship with one other.

The main way you could tell whether a king was doing his job or not, was by how well the poor and vulnerable and marginalized were doing (the anavim).  If the anavim were flourishing and prospering, then the king was doing a good job; he was being God’s leader and representative to the people.  And if the anavim were not prospering, if they were not being treated rightly and justly, then the king was failing in his role and needed to be replaced.  Everything hinged on how well the poor and vulnerable and weak and marginalized were doing, which might be something we need to pay attention to these days.

In the midst of any health crisis, particularly COVID-19, it seems like the most vulnerable are always the poor, the newborn (and unborn), and the elderly.  What if we made our decisions about openings and closings, masks or no masks, sports or no sports, school in person or online, based on what is most beneficial to the most vulnerable among us?  Would that not be the most God-like (king-like) thing to do?  Especially in the midst of a virus that can so easily and unknowingly be passed along from one person to another.  What if we stopped making it about our own individual rights and wants and preferences, and started making it about what was most loving and caring to everyone, even the poor and the elderly?  Now don’t get me wrong, I am a huge football fan, and I want there to be football.  I just don't want it to be at anyone's expense.  Would it be too much to ask to miss a football season if it was in order to save the lives of those who are weakest and most vulnerable among us?

And what about social justice?  Living where I live and doing what I normally do, I can go for months without even thinking about it, but others are not so fortunate.  What if my level of contentment with where things are in the country and the world, as far as justice issues are concerned, was dependent upon those who have to deal with them on a daily basis?  What if I was never content until they were content?  What if I refused to flourish until they were free to flourish?  What if we all cared about everyone being treated with the dignity and respect and kindness and equity and love that we hope to be shown ourselves?  What if it is wasn’t enough just to be aware of what the issues are, but to actually be a part of doing something about them?

You see, when we focus on the micro, we tend to get ourselves in trouble; it brings out the absolute worst in all of us.  Things become combative and defensive and argumentative, and even violent.  We just start spinning around in our own little lives, worrying about our own needs and wants, and we miss the great big story God has called us (all of humanity) to take part in.  But when we are able to shift our focus, our seeing and our thinking, to the macro—to the bigger picture, to the greater good—God begins to do amazing things.  God works in and through us, and the world becomes a better place to live…for everyone.