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



Friday, July 31, 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!!!

Tuesday, June 30, 2020

seeing beyond the mess

to gaze upon the
beauty of the Lord
~ps. 27:4

you will never reach 
the promised land
if all you can see 
is the shit on your shoes

you must learn to gaze 
beyond the muck
to be captured 
by a greater beauty
to be pulled along 
by a grace far bigger 
than all the mess

Thursday, June 25, 2020

demolition

The Pharisees were consumed with appearances, they were constantly trying to build and climb and jockey for position.  They were constantly trying to convince themselves and their world that they were somebody.  Power and prestige were their primary motivators.  Thus, they were hollow men; men without any depth or substance.  They were hypokritēs, actors on stage, merely playing a role; putting on their costumes each morning before they went out to take their places in the world.  And Jesus wanted so much more for them than that, as well as for us.

So he took a wrecking ball to their finely crafted reputations, and proceeded to smash them to smithereens. (Matthew 23:1-12) And in the process he asks each of us to do the same.  He calls us not to pride and arrogance and pretention and self-sufficiency, but to humility.  For, in the beautiful words of Albert E. Day: “Humility is the demolition of human pride and self-sufficiency.”

But the interesting thing is that Jesus doesn’t take the wrecking ball to our lives himself, he asks us to do that.  “Whoever humbles himself will be exalted,” he says.  Thus, he asks each of us to demo our own house.  He asks us to tear down all of the pride and pretense, to eliminate all of the jockeying and posturing, to rid ourselves of the climbing and building and achieving.  It is not any easy thing to ask, or to do, especially in a culture that values the very things he is asking us to demolish.  But it must be done.  Because on the other side of the demolition is life and love.  Only when we don’t need the responses and affirmations of others to define us, can we ever really begin to love and serve them.

So let’s get to work.  Let’s roll up our sleeves and start pounding away at all pride and position and pretense and self-promotion.  Let’s abandon our manipulative and self-serving ways and begin to choose what is small and hidden and quiet and lowly.  Let us seek to be invisible, rather than visible.  Let us seek to serve, rather than be served.  Let us be more concerned about the success of others, than we are about our own.  In other words, let us empty ourselves of self, that we might be filled with the life and love of God.  For in lifting him up, we will be lifted up as well.

Wednesday, June 24, 2020

humble yourself


“Humility is not nothingness but fullness, for into the vacuum created by the demolition of human pride and self-sufficiency, pours the fullness of God,” writes Albert E. Day.  Thus, my cup can overflow only when it is totally empty and devoid of self.  Humility is the process by which that emptying takes place.  Through humility, God empties us of self, in order to make room within us to receive his fullness.  That’s why he says, “Humble yourselves before the Lord and he will lift you up.”

Help us, O Lord, to embrace humility, rather than run from it.  For, by humility, you empty us of self, so that we might become full of you.  Amen.

Saturday, June 20, 2020

the good way

jer. 6:16

you can’t start with go
if you want to reach
God’s chosen destination
you must start with stop

you must pause and consider
you must observe and pay attention
you must see both the conditions 
and possibilities

you must ask
how the ancients
found their way
into the promised land

you must ask
where the good way is
for the way
is as important
as the destination

then and only then
can you walk
the path that appears
before you
guided by the peace
of knowing that 
your entire journey
is in hands far greater
than your own

Wednesday, June 17, 2020

justice and righeousness

In the kingdom of God, justice and righteousness are vitally and intimately connected.  Just look at the Scriptures, you hardly ever see one without the other. Justice (mishpat), at its core, means that all of the principles and standards of the covenant are applied equally and fairly to everyone.  And righteousness (tsedaqah) has to do with right standing and right relationship, first with God and then with one another.  Righteousness means that everyone and everything are living as they were intended to.  Thus, you can’t be righteous without being just, and you can’t be just without being righteous.

And when you put the two together, you get peace (shalom).  And by peace, I do not mean merely a calm and serene feeling inside, but I mean wholeness. Shalom is always about experiencing the creation intent of God.  Shalom is about being exactly who and what we were meant to be.  It is about reversing the effects of the fall whenever and wherever possible and making space for God to usher in the kingdom once again.  For only when we experience true shalom can we ever have any real hope of finding the rest our souls most deeply long for.

The tricky part is that only God can bring about true shalom, but we are all responsible to live justly and act rightly—by his power and his grace.  It is how we seek the peace of the city. (Jer. 29:7) In order to seek shalom for all, we must consider what it means for us as individuals to live in such a way that we do justice and love mercy and walk humbly with our God. (Micah 6:8) We can’t just sit idly by and hope that it will somehow magically come about.  It will take a lot of effort on our part.  It will take a lot of prayer and reflection and confession and conversation and repentance and reconciliation.  It will involve each of us considering what God would have us to do in order to make his shalom a possibility for all.

What does that look like for you?  How will you take the first, or the next, step?  How will you live in such a way, this day, that you are an agent of God’s shalom in the world?  After all, “Real wisdom, God’s wisdom, begins with a holy life and is characterized by getting along with others.  It is gentle and reasonable, overflowing with mercy and blessings, not hot one day and cold the next, not two-faced.  You can develop a healthy, robust community that lives right with God and enjoy its results only if you do the hard work of getting along with each other, treating each other with dignity and honor.” (James 3:17-18, The Message)

Tuesday, June 16, 2020

what are you trying to prove?


“What are you trying to prove?  Why do you keep running around wearing yourself down, loading yourself up, and burning yourself out?  Why are you trying so hard to prove to yourself and your world—and even to me—that you are worth loving?  Come to me and I will give you rest.  Come to me and I will show you who you really are; I will show you who I made you to be.  I will show that it is not what you do that makes you valuable, it is who you are.  In fact, it is whose you are.  You are mine.  You belong to me.  I love you fully, passionately, and unconditionally.  Take that “yoke” upon you and you can finally stop running and performing and jockeying.  Take my yoke upon you and you will finally be able to stop and breathe.  You will finally be able to recover the life of your soul.”

Friday, June 12, 2020

free

how many of your words
are born out of need
and not out of love

how many of your actions
are an attempt to achieve
rather than an expression
of who you have become

this life is merely
a response to grace
not the purchase of it

so live freely
and love freely
your value and worth
are not on the line

Thursday, June 4, 2020

free to love

“It’s absolutely clear that God has called you to a free life.  Just make sure you don’t use this freedom as an excuse to do whatever you want to do and destroy your freedom.  Rather, use your freedom to serve one another in love; that’s how freedom grows. (Gal. 5:13, The Message)

Where did we ever get the idea that freedom was doing whatever the hell we wanted to do.  It is not!  Freedom is about love and care.  Freedom is about the ability to stop being so self-centered and self-consumed that we are finally able to love and serve those around us, rather than extort love out of them.  We are free men and women when having our own needs met is not the driving force behind all of our relationships and behavior.  For only then are we really free to love.

Lord Jesus, help us to live as free men and women: free to love, rather than demanding to be loved; free to serve, rather than demanding to be served; and free to be others-centered, rather than constantly being self-centered.  In other words, help us to be like you.  Amen.

Wednesday, June 3, 2020

more is not better

If I have learned anything in these last few months of quarantine and pandemic, it’s that more is not better.  It’s just not.  But, unfortunately, we live in a culture that says it is.  We live in a world that is addicted to more.  But my guess is that in the past few months, where more has not been an option, the value of less has kind of snuck up on us, surprised us, and maybe even delighted us.  In fact, in many ways we might have actually discovered that less is more.  Less work means more quality time to be with those who are nearest and dearest to us.  Less activity means more conversation, rest, and reflection.  Less frenzy and chaos and hurry means more peace and joy and contentment.

But what happens when things finally get back to normal?  Do we jump right back in to our “more is better” mentality?  Or do we take the lessons that less has taught us and weave them into the fabric of our lives?  Do we proceed in a different way and at a different pace and with a different perspective, or do we mindlessly plunge back in to the demands and busyness and hurry?

“It is for freedom that Christ has set you free,” Paul tells us in Galatians 5:1. “Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.”  What if the last few months were about bringing freedom?  What if the last few months were an opportunity to experience a different way, so that each of us might choose to proceed differently?  What if God is trying to get our attention, as a people and as a culture, and say, “More is not better. See!  Less is the better, deeper, and more live-giving way.  Choose less.  Don’t allow the desire for more to rule over you.  Don’t allow it to make you its slave once again.  Because the constant pursuit of more will actually make you less; and doing less, will actually help you to become more.  Everything is topsy-turvy in the kingdom of God.”

The only question is, will we choose freedom, or will we choose bondage?  Whether we believe it or not, the choice really is up to us.

Sunday, May 31, 2020

the truth will set you free

If the truth sets us free (John 8:31-32), then when we are not free it must be because we are believing something that is not true.  Makes sense, right?  But the big question is: What is it?  What am I believing that keeps me living a life of fear and bondage?  Identifying that belief is key in the process of change and freedom.

I guess it’s different for everyone, but for me one of the main things I believe that simply is not true is this: What people think about me and say about me determines my value and my worth.  It is a belief that buried deeply in the fabric of my being and one that has far-reaching implications.  For instance, when I believe that my value and worth are determined by what people thing and say, comparison is constant.  It becomes a way of life.  Worth and value are a scarce commodity that must be competed for.  Secondly, insecurity is rampant.  My entire sense of well-being is determined by people opinions and reactions to me, which change daily.  Which then means that anxiety is prevalent.  I must always worry about how others are perceiving me.  Next, rest is impossible.  How can I rest if my value is constantly on the line?  And finally, performance is predominant.  I must always be “on.”  I can never let up.  Who I am is constantly determined by what I do.

There are a lot of things you can call such a life, but free is not one of them.  This is ultimate bondage.  Only when I change my belief, only when I truly believe that my worth and value are determined not by what I do, but by whose I am, everything changes.  I am valuable because of the One who made me uniquely and loves me dearly.  That is not something I can lose.    

Lord Jesus, thank you that you want us to be free men and women.  And thank you that you made us in such a way that the truth sets us free.  Help us, then, to know what is true and what is not.  Help us to see the things that we believe that are simply not true.  For until we see those things and expose them to your truth, nothing will ever change in our lives.  We will live lives of fear and bondage rather than lives of freedom and truth.  Help us, Lord Jesus, for we cannot do that apart from you.  Amen.

Tuesday, May 26, 2020

quiet me

“The Lord your God is with you, he is mighty to save. He will take great delight in you, he will quiet you with his love, he will rejoice over you with singing.” (Zephaniah 3:17)

Quiet me, O Lord, with your great love and rejoice over me with happy song.  Hush my mouth and my heart, so that I might be content to rest in your Divine Embrace.  Then all I do, think, and say will be a direct result of your great affection; the fruit of a life in intimate union with you.  Amen.

Friday, May 22, 2020

down

O Lord
here we go again
as you take me down
into the dust and dirt
the muck and mire
to make me more into 
the person you want me to be

it is a hard
but necessary trip
this downward journey
meant to accomplish 
something wild and wonderful
difficult yet life-giving
in me

for it takes a lot
of humiliation
i am told
to equal an ounce of humility
and humility is the mark
of those who know you best
and love you most

so whatever it takes
Lord Jesus
to make me more like you
i’m in
have your way with me

you emptied yourself
and made yourself nothing
for me
seems the least i can do
is return the favor

your glory was your pain 
and in dying 
you brought new life
so help me to be open
to that same downward path
lest i just become another old fool 
unwilling to accept 
that the road to life 
actually leads downward

Tuesday, May 12, 2020

meek

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

Meek has always been a bit of a slippery word for me.  I’ve never been quite able to get a handle on it.  And yet, here it is, at such a crucial point in Jesus’ teachings, just as he is highlighting the qualities that most characterize those who live in the kingdom of God.  I don’t know about you, but that seems pretty significant to me.  Oddly enough, even as significant as it seems, the word is used only three times in the entire New Testament.  Once here in Matthew 5:5, once in Matthew 21:5 when it describes Jesus coming into Jerusalem “gentle and riding on a donkey,” and once in 1 Peter 3:4 describing how God desires a wife’s spirit to possess “the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is of great worth in God’s sight.”

So exactly what is meekness?  Well, maybe the best way to begin is by talking about what it is not.  It is not aggressive, it is not demanding, and it is not prideful.  It is not arrogant, it is not pushy, and it is not showy.  It is not needy, it is not fearful, and it is not insecure.  It is not rash, it is not harsh, and it is not reactive.  It is neither possessive, nor obsessive.  It does not seek to impose or impress.  It does not try to control or manipulate.  It does not seek its own way or work its own agenda.  It is not opinionated, not argumentative, and does not need to be right.

But what is meekness?  Is it humility?  Is it gentleness?  Or is it something else altogether?  Maybe the reason it’s so hard to define is that it’s all of those things, and more.  It is a quality of being, a spirit, and an attitude that displays itself in a peaceful, calm, and contented demeanor.  It is a state of heart and mind.  It is not being full of yourself or thinking too much of yourself.  The Greek word for meek is praÿs, which means mild, humble, and gentleness of spirit.  The dictionary defines the word meek as humbly patient and overly submissive; gentle and kind.  J. B. Phillips says that the meek are “those who claim nothing.”  And Eugene Peterson says they are those “who are content to be just who they are—no more, no less.”

Meekness is the quality of being at home with your true self, comfortable in your own skin.  It is an ability to be yourself in a way that allows others to fully be themselves.  It is the quality of being content and at peace, whole and free.  Thus, the meek are described as blessed.  And why wouldn’t they be?  After all, if you are meek, then there is no need for jockeying or posturing or performing.  The pressure is off.  You are free to love and to be loved.  Free to be gentle with yourself and with others.

I suppose that’s why the meek will inherit the earth, because they don’t need it to make them worthwhile.  They have no need to try and take it by force or by storm.  The world will always resist those who try to take it, but will always be open to those who gently and kindly and meekly love it and serve it.  And that blesses everyone.

Monday, May 11, 2020

lament

“Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.” (Matthew 5:4) 

Why on earth would those who mourn be blessed?  I mean, mourning is something we neither welcome nor enjoy, right?  So what could possibly be so good about it?  That is unless that very grieving and mourning is the substance of what’s preparing the way for something new and good and beautiful to be born. 

Mourning almost always involves some sort of letting go, and none of us is very good at that.  We don’t do loss very well, so we have to grieve it.  Grief and mourning is the process by which we let go of what was, in order to embrace what is to come.  We cannot have one without the other.  Release always comes before receive.  Therefore, the refusal to let go is a refusal to grow and change.  It can leave us angry and bitter and frustrated.  

That’s where lament comes in.  Lament is the spiritual practice of mourning, grieving, and letting go.  Lament celebrates what was, grieves the fact that it is no more, and opens us up to what is to be.  Lament is how we keep from getting stuck hanging on in desperation to what has been, but is no more.  And as long as we hang on to the way things have always been, there will be no room within or among us to imagine, and be open to, the beauty of what things can be.  That’s why so many of the psalms are prayers of lament.  They invite us to face our loss and our sadness, they invite us to grieve the pain of that reality, and they invite us to make space for trust and for hope.  

That’s why Jesus tells us that those who mourn are blessed.  For not only will they be comforted in the life to come, but they will also be comforted in this life as well.  Their grieving will make room for new possibilities.  In God’s economy, death always leads to new life.  It’s almost as if Jesus was telling us: “Do not refuse to let go of what is gone and cannot be regained, for it will keep you from taking hold of all that is to come.  And what is to come is more beautiful than you could ever imagine."  Thanks be to God!    

Thursday, May 7, 2020

not ready

psalm 130:5

if nothing else
waiting tells us
that we are still 
not ready
for what is to come

not ready 
for an answer
we cannot yet fully live
not ready 
for an existence
we cannot yet maintain
not ready 
for a life
we cannot yet sustain

there is a ripening
that still must take place
the fruit is not yet ready
to be plucked from the vine
it needs more time 
to become
so we wait

the process of becoming
cannot be hastened
nor can it be shortened
time must run its course

so for now we wait
and still we wait

Monday, May 4, 2020

dwell

“And I will dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life.” (Psalm 23:6)

I think God is trying to teach me about dwelling.  I know, I know, two months of “sheltering at home” can have that effect on you, right?  But I haven’t sheltered well at home.  Oh sure, I’ve had my moments.  But I have also had times when I was restless and stir crazy and distracted and frustrated and even bored.  I don’t think that’s the kind of dwelling God had in mind.

Somehow this season is giving me an opportunity to practice dwelling, if I will embrace it.  Dwelling (or abiding) seems to be such a large part of life with God.  In fact, the word dwell is used over 1,000 times in the Old Testament.  So learning to dwell with him and in him seems of utmost importance.  Yet, for the most part, I am resistant to it.  And if I am resistant to dwelling in my own house, how in the world can I ever hope to get any better at dwelling in his?

I guess the truth is that I’m finding I’m a lot more consumed with doing than I thought I was, and a lot less comfortable with being.  O Lord, help me!  Help me to embrace, rather than resist, this time and this season.  Use it to teach me how to dwell in you.  Use it to teach me to be.

Sunday, May 3, 2020

pray yourself in me

Teach me to pray, O Father, and I will pray.
For how can I pray, unless you teach me?
When I presume to know the your ways,
I do nothing but show my ignorance.

So show me you will, O God,
That I might align myself with it.
And show me your desires, O Lord,
That they might become my own.

Save me from my own limited perspective.
Save me from my opinions and preferences.
Save me from my own hidden agendas.
Save me from myself.

Give me, this day, O Father,
The very words you want me to pray.
Otherwise I will just sit in silence
And wait for you.

Saturday, April 25, 2020

ten things i'm learning from "sheltering at home"

1. The world doesn't need me quite as much as I thought, or hoped, it did.
2. The things that really matter the most are faith and family.
3. God speaks a lot more often, and a lot more clearly, when my soul is still and silent.
4. It takes a while for my soul to become still and silent.
5. I'm addicted to "doing" much more than I thought I was.
6. I can go longer without watching sports than I thought I could. (But I don't have to like it!)
7. I take far too many things, and people, for granted.
8. When our leaders are motivated by self-interest everyone loses.
9. The real heroes in this world are the ones taking care of other people without drawing attention to themselves.
10. Though circumstances change, God never does.  He is always with us, he is always good, and he is always in control.

Thursday, April 23, 2020

stop doubting and believe

Though the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!”  Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here; see my hands.  Reach out your hand and put it in my side.  Stop doubting and believe!” (John 20:26-27)

Doubt has many faces, which can make it really difficult to identify and to combat.  Knowing the various faces of our doubts, knowing what they look like and what they cause us to do, as well as knowing what is really at their core, is so key in the process of overcoming them.

Sometimes doubt looks like not really believing that God can intervene in our lives in a real and tangible way, and sometimes it looks like not really believing that he will.  Sometimes doubt looks like not really believing that God loves us, and sometimes it looks like not really believing that we are worth loving.  Sometimes it looks like not really believing that God will act on our behalf, and sometimes it looks like not really believing that we are worthy of being acted for.  Thus, sometimes doubt has to do with ourselves, sometimes it has to do with others, and sometimes it has to do with our God.

But in all cases, doubt is about not really believing.  Not really believing that God is good.  Not really believing that he is trustworthy.  Not really believing that he is enough.  Not really believing that he is living and active.  Not really believing that he is always at work for our growth and well-being.  Not really believing that he is in control.

And when we live in doubt, it sets us off in really bad directions.  Our lives become filled with fear and anxiety and insecurity.  Or we get overwhelmed and overcome with grief and despair and depression.  Or we find ourselves frustrated and angry and bitter.  Or we become obsessed with jockeying and performing, or with managing and controlling; all of which make us such terrible versions of ourselves.  And God wants so much more for us than that.  He wants us to believe.

That’s why he tells Thomas, as well as you and me, “Stop doubting and believe!”  It is both a command and an invitation.  Not a command in the sense of “Do this or else,” but in the sense of “Do this so that.”  Stop doubting so that your life will be all that I hoped and dreamed it would be.  Stop doubting so that you will be controlled and compelled by love, rather than by fear and anxiety and insecurity.  Stop doubting so that you can become more and more like the person I created you to be.

“Stop doubting and believe!” is also an invitation.  Jesus invites Thomas, as well as each of us, into a new way of seeing and of being.  He invites him to let go of certain ways of thinking and living, so that he can experience the life and the freedom he was made for.  He invites him to be set free from the old patterns and habits of the false self, in order that he might become new and true.  He invites him to “be transformed by the renewing of his mind so that he can test and approve of what God’s will is; his good, pleasing and perfect will.” (Romans 12:2)  And he invites each of us into that process as well.

So what would it look like for you to “Stop doubting and believe!” today?  What does doubt look like for you right now?  What “face” is it wearing?  What effect is it having on your life?  How is Jesus inviting you to believe in such a way that it enables you to leave doubt, and all of its effects, behind?  What does that look like?  Will you do it?

For if you and I are willing to answer these questions, and if we are willing to “Stop doubting and believe!”, then maybe one day each of us will be able to stand before Jesus, as Thomas did, and utter the words: “My Lord and my God!”

Wednesday, April 22, 2020

do not hold on to me

*This is a post from a year ago that I though was worthy of being reposted, given the season.  It seems like letting go is a life-log process, but one that holds great hope.  Enjoy.


“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 20, 2020

stones, tombs, and locked doors

no stone was too heavy for you
no tomb could keep you in
no locked door could keep you out

you cannot be deterred
nor can you be contained
and you will not be held at bay

you will not be dismissed
nor will you be managed
and you cannot be controlled

what stones have i set in place, O Lord
what tombs have i tried to seal you within
what rooms have i locked you out of

Resurrected Jesus 
come roll my stones away
empty my tombs
come through my locked doors
and raise me to new life again

Saturday, April 18, 2020

becoming

For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few. (Matthew 7:14, ESV)

There is an old story about a man who spent hours watching as a butterfly struggled to emerge from its cocoon.  It finally managed, after significant time and effort, to make a small hole, but its body was still far too big to get through it.  After much wrestling and toil, the butterfly appeared to be totally exhausted, as it laid there lifeless and still.

The man had seen enough, he finally decided he just had to help.  He took a pair of scissors and cut and opening in the cocoon to allow the butterfly to be released from its struggle.  But no sooner had the butterfly emerged, than the man noticed its body was shrunken and its wings puny and shriveled.  It was incapable of flight.

What the man—out of kindness and good intent—had assumed was that the butterfly needed to be rescued, when it actually needed to be left to struggle.  It was the struggle to emerge from the tight cocoon and the effort necessary to squeeze out of that small hole that were supposed to make the butterfly’s wings strong enough for flight.

And so it is with each of us.  Our transformation cannot happen without struggle and pain and turmoil, although we try to avoid each.  In fact, it is the struggle and the toil and the wrestling that makes our souls into all that God desires them to be.  If we try to bypass the hard and the uncomfortable and the unpleasant, we will never be ready for the flight and the life that God has prepared for each of us.  It is both good and necessary.  It is vital to our process of becoming.

Thursday, April 16, 2020

disorientation

No matter how you slice it, we are living in a season of disorientation.  Things are not as they have always been, which brings confusion and chaos and sadness and anxiety and fear.  There is the grief of having to let go of the way things have been, and there is a fear and uncertainty to not knowing how things will look when this season comes to an end.  And it will come to an end.

The fact is that there are three basic seasons in the spiritual life: orientation, disorientation, and reorientation.  Half the battle is knowing what season you are in and choosing to embrace that season, rather than ignore or deny or resist it.  The other half of the battle is the realization that whatever season we find ourselves in is actually leading us somewhere.  It is taking us to somewhere new, to a reorientation.  It is not taking us back to the good old days where it was easy and comfortable, but forward to a totally new place.  It is leading us to a way of being and seeing that is different, and better, than that from which we came.

But living in a season of disorientation certainly has its challenges.  In fact, we would love to bypass it or escape it if we could, but we cannot.  Therefore, we must learn to let go.  Letting go might be the most significant spiritual discipline of the season of disorientation.  And letting go always involves some amount of grief.  So don’t be surprised if this season involves some pain and sorrow and sadness.  Don’t run from it, but enter into it.  Learn from it.  Let it build and grow you.  For the refusal to let go comes at an even higher cost: frustration, anger, bitterness, despair, depression, etc.  

So we must, by God’s grace, learn to live well in our current season.  We must learn to let go well, which is going to call for some significant trust.  Trust that God is good.  Trust that God is always at work, even in the darkest and most painful times of life.  And trust that God is up to something good in and through us, regardless of how dire and desperate the circumstances appear.  He is leading us not back to an old season of orientation, but ahead to a new and beautiful season of reorientation.

God always wants more for us than the life (and the season) we are currently experiencing.  And that more does not usually come easy.  So rest assured that this season—as hard and as dark as it might seem—is certainly no exception.  God is more concerned with our growth than he is with our ease and comfort.  He is always about our becoming.

Tuesday, April 14, 2020

she didn't realize

“At this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she didn’t realize that it was Jesus.” (John 20:14, NIV)

Not realizing is an interesting phenomenon.  Because a large part of not realizing is that you don’t realize that you’re not realizing.  That’s what makes it so tricky.  We get so far inside our own paradigm or perspective that it is all we can see.  Everything is seen and interpreted through that particular point of view.  It is complete tunnel vision.  And it is not something we can break out of on our own, we need help.  It takes a voice from outside ourselves, or from the Spirit within, to awaken us.  It takes an epiphany.  Otherwise, we will just keep maintaining the status quo.

Mary didn’t realize that it was Jesus.  Either her grief, or her confusion, or her emotions, or her surroundings, or the chaos caused by all of the above had her so preoccupied and consumed with her own point of view that she could see nothing else.  Her eyes were so full of tears that her vision could not have been anything but distorted.  And in the midst of her pain and sorrow and sadness, she could not see that she could not see.

It took a voice gently calling her name.  It took the voice of her Savior.  He was the only one who could awaken her from the nightmare.  He was the only one who could help her realize that he was right there.  And when he finally spoke, she came to life once again.  His resurrection had brought about her own.

That’s the way things tend to work in the spiritual life.  Oftentimes, we are so far inside ourselves, or our circumstances, that we cannot see Jesus, even when he’s standing right in front of us.  But thanks be to God that he doesn’t leave us that way for long.  Eventually he calls out our name and we awaken from our sleep and are raised to new life once again, just like Mary.

Speak to us this day, Risen Jesus, that we might hear our name from your lips and realize that you are with us, even in the midst of our sorrow and our tears.  Raise us to new life again, that we might help others to realize that you are present in the midst of their chaos as well.  Amen.