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



Wednesday, April 1, 2020

lessons in irrelevance

Okay, so I’m a bit of a slow learner.  I have been praying Psalm 62 every Wednesday for three years now and it is finally starting to get through to me, especially when you add this odd season of being homebound due to the coronavirus outbreak.

Here’s what I am learning:  I am irrelevant.  And by that I do not meant that I am not relevant and valuable to God; I mean I am not necessary for the survival of the world.  God can manage just fine without me.  If nothing else, the last few weeks of being stuck at home has convinced me that I am not essential to the health and well-being of those I know and love.  Sure, I add something unique and beautiful to their lives, but the truth is that when I’m not around they seem to get along just fine.  And interestingly enough, that is not meant to be morbid or demeaning, it is meant to be freeing and empowering—for both me and them.

You’d have thought I would have learned this lesson by now, simply through praying Psalm 62.  But again, I’m a bit of a slow learner.  The very first words (in the original Hebrew) of the psalm are “Only for God.”  It is the theme of the entire psalm—only for God, only in God, only through God.  There is no God and, just God alone.  And for someone who tries to be relevant every day of his life, that is a bit of a blow to my ego.  I want to be relevant and necessary.  What’s more, I need to be relevant and necessary.  So for someone who needs to be needed, it is a humbling reality.  I guess God is trying to teach me the value of being irrelevant.  I guess he is trying to get me to recognize and embrace that irrelevance, rather than deny and resist it.

There’s an old saying that goes: “If I need you, then I cannot truly love you.”  Until I can release my need to be relevant and impactful, life will always be about me, not about God.  And God works in and through me best when it is all about him and is nothing about me.  So somehow, mysteriously, it is only through embracing my irrelevance that I am actually able to be relevant to what God wants to do in and through me in his kingdom.  I suppose I would do well to remember than.

Sunday, March 29, 2020

if you are willing

A man with leprosy came to him and begged on his knees, “If you are willing, you can make me clean.” (Mark 1:40) 

Okay, I have to be honest, I’ve never been a big “name it, claim it” type of guy when it comes to prayer.  That mentality just seems to be a lot more about “my will be done” than it does about “Thy will be done.”  I think that’s why I love this scene in Mark’s gospel so much.  It is such a great example of how to come humbly and submissively before the throne of God with a desperate plea. 

This needy, hurting, broken man comes to Jesus, falls on his knees, and begs for healing.  But it is the way he does it that I love.  I love his posture, I love his request, and I love how Jesus responds.  It offers such a great image for prayer.  It makes me wonder if Jesus would be really pleased if we all approached him in this way.  It was raw and passionate and real, yet held no demand.  It carried no sense of entitlement or obligation.  And it did not seem to be wrought with a sense of trying to manipulate God into doing what the leprous man wanted.  It was simply a broken person, in great need, falling on his knees before the God who made him, and begging that God to intervene on his behalf—if he was willing.  That is the key.

“I know you can,” states the requestor.  “That is, if you are willing to.”  Almost as if to say: “I know you can, O God.  I know you are able.  I know you have the power to help.  But I need to ask, in your great wisdom, if you are willing.”  What a great prayer!  It puts the ball clearly in God’s court.  It leaves our circumstances completely under his control and care.  It reminds us that it is his will that counts the most, not our own.  No one knew this better than Jesus: “Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done.” (Luke 22:42)  And Paul had the same experience when he pleaded with the Lord to take away his “thorn in the flesh,” but the only response he received was: “My grace is sufficient for you.” (2 Cor. 12:9) 

Years ago I had the privilege, with a group of friends, to sit under the teaching of a wise and wonderful man; a man who was well into his nineties and had been following Jesus for over seventy years.  He was intimately familiar with the ways and the practices of prayer.  During one of our sessions together, one of my friends asked him to describe his prayer life, and I will never forget what he said.  Part of his answer had to do with how he prayed for certain things and people.  “When someone asks me to pray for something,” he said, “I don’t immediately begin praying for exactly what they asked me to, I take it to the Lord first and ask him how he wants me to pray for that person or circumstance.  Then, after I have received an answer from the Lord, I pray.  That way I am able to pray in line with his will, not merely the will of the one who had asked me to pray.” 

And there you have it.  “If you are willing, you can make me clean,” said the man who was covered with leprosy.  And Jesus’ response was priceless: “I am willing.  Be clean!”  Thanks be to God.

Lord Jesus, teach me how to pray.  Thank you that you can do all things.  Give me the strength and the courage and the grace to ask, like the leper, if you are willing.  And help me to fully accept whatever answer you may give, knowing that you love me deeply and will care for me fully, at all times and in all ways.  Thank you that, regardless of my circumstances, I can fully trust in you.  Amen.

Friday, March 27, 2020

blossoming

“I will be like dew to Israel; he will blossom like a lily. . . .  He will flourish like the grain.  He will blossom like a vine. . .” (Hosea 14:5, 7) 

The book of Hosea ends with a simple invitation: “Return, O Israel, to the Lord your God.”  And if we take God up on that invitation, it tells us, in rich imagery, what the results will be: flourishing and blossoming.  If we return to the Lord, we will become all that we were intended to be.  A flower’s entire purpose is to blossom.  It is the culmination of a long and arduous process—and a beautiful one at that.

Years ago we planted lilies by our mailbox.  When we planted them, we knew that it would take a while for them to bud and bloom and blossom.  For months we would go to the mailbox to get the mail and see nothing, just the barren landscape of winter.  But then one day, suddenly it seemed, the green sprouts poked their heads out of the ground and we were able to watch them grow each day.  It was the first hint we’d had that something was going on under the surface of the soil all of those days and weeks and months.  But once those green shoots finally appeared, the anticipation began to grow, until the day when they finally opened their heads to the sun and blossomed into all they were intended to be.  It wasn’t until then that we were able to fully see and fully appreciate their true beauty.

And Hosea promises us the same.  Although we are living at a time and in a season where it is hard to imagine anything beautiful blooming or blossoming, God is still at work silently, beneath the surface of our lives, growing us and preparing us to bloom and to blossom when the spring finally arrives.  He promises us that if we will return to the Lord our God—not just once or twice, but always again—we too will see a day when we become all that he intended for us to be.  We too will bud and blossom and flourish.  We too will show the world the beauty and the majesty that we were meant to reflect.  It is what we were created for.

Which begs the question: What does returning to the Lord your God look like for you these days?  How is God inviting you to become all that you were intended to be?  And where in your life are you seeing a blossoming?  Where in your life is the Lord growing you into something beautiful and alive and vibrant?

Thank you, O Lord, that blossoming is exactly what you had in mind for us when you breathed us into being.  You did not have to make us that way, but thank you that you did.  Help us, O Lord, to return to you each and every day, so that we might become all that we were intended to be—beautiful reflections of your life, love, and creativity.  Amen.

Thursday, March 26, 2020

a prayer of waiting


O Lord, keep us from doing, 
just for the sake of doing.  
Keep us from springing into action, 
simply because we have no better alternative.  
Keep us from manufacturing and creating, 
when should be sitting still 
and depending on you to move and act.  
Keep us from spinning our wheels,
 just for the sake of spinning them.  
We can do nothing apart from you, O Lord, 
so help us just to be still and wait for you.  
Amen.

Tuesday, March 24, 2020

blocking and walling

“Therefore I will block her path with thornbushes; I will wall her in so that she cannot find her way.  She will chase after other lovers but will not catch them; she will look for them but not find them.” (Hosea 2:6-7)

What are we to think about a God who would block our path or wall us in?  Unless, of course, that blocking or walling is ultimately for our good.  Otherwise, it would be easy to feel hurt or frustrated.  Otherwise, it might just seem cold and cruel and heartless--even spiteful.  

But we know better than that, for we know your heart.  We know that you made us out of love, for love—to love and to be loved beyond measure.  Therefore, any blocking or walling has to be for our greater good.  It has to be your way of alluring us.  What if the whole reason you led us into the desert in the first place was so that you could speak tenderly to us?  What if this blocking and walling was all part of this alluring?  That would change everything.  That would show us that you love us too much to allow us chase after lovers who cannot possibly satisfy the deepest longings of our heart.

If that, O God, is why you block and wall, then, by all means, block and wall away!  Thank you that your heart for me is so deep and so full of love that you cannot allow me to settle for less than the life and the love you created me for.  You would rather block my path or wall me in than allow me to run off in search of other lovers.  All so that you could lead me into the desert and speak tenderly to me.  Thank you that you love me that much.  Amen.

Monday, March 23, 2020

stopping lessons

For thus said the Lord God, the Holy One of Israel, “In returning and rest you shall be saved; in quietness and trust shall be your strength.” But you were unwilling. . . .” (Isaiah 30:15, ESV)

Does it seem bizarre to you that we, for some unfathomable reason, would be unwilling to stop and rest?  That we would have to be “made” to lie down in green pastures (Psalm 23:2) or to be "led" to sit beside quiet waters?  Why is it so hard for us to stop?  Is it because we don’t want to, or because we just don’t know how?  I think we need stopping lessons.

Imagine how terrifying it would be if, when we were being taught to ride a bike, we never learned how to stop.  In that case, we would have only two options available.  We could either keep on going (forever), or we could crash.  Unfortunately, choosing option number one always leads to option number two—to keep going and going and going is not a sustainable solution.

I remember when my wife and I tried snow skiing for the very first time.  I mean, it looked easy enough, right?  And since we had a chalet right on the slopes we decided to forgo any type of lessons and just go for it.  We put on our boots and our skis, went out of our chalet to the slope that was just outside our door, and took off down the hill.  Going is a breeze, right?  It is all physics and gravity.  But as we picked up speed heading down the hill, both of us realized that we didn’t know how to stop.  I’m guessing that was probably lesson number one in ski school.  And so we began to look for the softest and safest place to crash, which we did—skis and poles going every which way.  I think even my gloves came off.  It was not pretty, nor fun.

Stopping is an essential part of life.  That’s probably why God made it a part of his weekly rhythm.  It’s what Sabbath is all about.  In fact, the Hebrew word for Sabbath simply means to stop.  God worked six days and then God stopped, and he rested.  Why would we think that we, who were made in his image, would be any different?  In fact, God tells us that it is “in returning and rest we shall be saved.”  Somehow it is in returning to God and resting in him, and his work and his care, that we actually find our own salvation.  It is not something we have to work for or achieve or earn, but something that can only be received freely.  Thus, we can stop and rest.  In fact, we must.

Which is funny because somehow I think we see stopping and resting as a weakness.  In our culture they are not held in high regard.  We are so resistant to stopping and resting because they force us to be dependent on something, or Someone, else for our salvation and our honor (Psalm 62:7).  Which makes us trust in God, rather than in our own gifts and efforts, and we do not like that.  We do not like things being out of our control.  But ultimately, whether we like it or not, the biggest things in life are out of our control.  And if nothing else, the last few weeks has been ample evidence of that.  So we must begin to learn to rely on God, to trust in him; which means that we are going to have to learn how to stop.  Stop relying on ourselves, stop trying to do it all ourselves, and stop trusting in ourselves.

Learning how to stop begins with belief—really being convinced that God is both strong and loving, just like he says he is (Psalm 62:11-12).  He is both able and willing to help us.  Learning how to stop comes from really believing that we truly are his beloved.  Our worth and value is solely determined by him and his great love for us.  We do not have to do anything to earn it, he loves us simply because we are his.  Thus, we do not have to constantly try to prove to ourselves and our world that we are worth loving.  And finally, learning to stop means that these truths begin to take shape in our lives.  They give us the freedom to slow down, to make space, to breathe.  The freedom to be the best, God-breathed, version of ourselves.  They allow us to run at a pace that is healthy and sustainable, pumping the brakes when life seems to be getting out of control.  They help us to operate out of love rather than out of need.  And they help us to acknowledge the fact that everything is not up to us, but up to God.  We are not meant to do everything, just the things he has specifically called us to.

I wonder if that might be a little of what God is trying to teach us these days—how to stop.  

Saturday, March 21, 2020

flourishing

Flourishing or surviving, which word best describes your life right now?  And why?  And how do you move from one to the other? 

I recently got an email from some dear friends who described in detail how they were attempting to be intentional with their hours and their days in the midst of this “hunkering down” that we are all being asked to do as a result of the coronavirus. You see, they wanted more than simply to survive this season of life, they wanted to thrive and grow and flourish.  And they believed in their hearts that God wanted that for them as well.  So they put their heads and their hearts together, prayed, asked themselves some great questions about what they most deeply wanted out of this particular season of life, and then set some things in motion.

It was so encouraging!  And it challenged me to examine my own heart and life.  It caused me to ask myself some hard but great questions about what kind of days I really wanted these to be.  Because flourishing (see Genesis 26:12-22), for the most part, doesn’t just fall on our heads; it takes us arranging our lives in certain ways, in order to make it more of a possibility.  And that takes intentionality.  Circumstances, or living in survival-mode, may have blocked our wells, and it is going to take some work to open them back up again.  They are not going to magically unblock themselves.  And the needs and duties and demands of this life are going to crowd us and keep us from having the elbowroom our souls need in order to bloom and blossom and grow.  Room to flourish doesn’t just happen by chance, it must be sought out and arranged for. 

The question is: How will we do that?  What is the life we most deeply want to live, and how are we going to move in that direction?  How will we be intentional about flourishing, rather than just surviving?  What does room to flourish look like these days?

Give us room to flourish, O Lord.  And give us the wisdom to know how to intentionally arrange our lives so that it is more of a possibility.  Amen.

Friday, March 20, 2020

get over yourself

O Lord, my heart is not lifted up; my eyes are not raised too high; I do not occupy myself with things too great and too marvelous for me.  But I have calmed and quieted my soul, like a weaned child with its mother; like a weaned child is my soul within me.  O Israel, hope in the Lord from this time forth and forevermore.  (Psalm 131:1-3, ESV)

I don’t know about you, but every now and then I have a tendency to overestimate my own importance, to somehow begin to believe that I am essential to things going well in the world.  It makes me unwilling (or unable) to stop and take a breath because “if I don’t do it, who else will?”  It is a skewed and flawed perspective to say the least.  For when we operate out of our own need, rather than out of God’s deep desire, we are not really loving people at all, but merely manipulating them.  They become pawns (objects) in our pathetic quest for self-importance.

The truth is that I am a non-essential in the grand scheme of things.  God doesn’t need me at all.  In fact, God doesn’t need any of us.  God uses us not because he needs us, but because he loves us.  He uses us because it gives us, and him, pleasure.  And when we finally begin to realize that, we are finally able to be of real service to the kingdom; for then it has stopped being about us and started being about him.  In fact, as the voice of Jesus so beautifully reminded us in 2 Corinthians 12:9, it is actually through our weakness and powerlessness that his strength and power are most fully on display.

I think that’s why praying this ancient prayer (Psalm 131) is so very important.  It reorients us.  It keeps our hearts from becoming too high (gabahh in Hebrew) and our eyes from being too lofty (ruwm).  It keeps us from thinking more of ourselves than we should.  It helps us to get over ourselves a little bit.  It keeps us from getting too obsessed with our own little contribution to what God is doing in his great big world.  It keeps things in perspective.

When we are finally able to honestly pray this prayer, we are finally to the point of being really useful to God, because it has become about him once again and not about us.  For ironically, if it doesn’t have to be me, then it actually can be me.

Thursday, March 19, 2020

stop

Okay, let’s face it, we suck at stopping.  We’re terrible at pressing pause, and apparently no better when pause is pressed for us.  Exhibit A, the coronavirus.  One thing I have really noticed in the wake of this outbreak is our blatant unwillingness to stop.  We either can’t, or we won’t, I’m not sure which.  And that’s a problem, for a multitude of reasons.  Not the least of which is that our unwillingness to stop puts the very lives of others—particularly the most vulnerable among us—at risk.  But it actually goes deeper than that, because stopping is woven into our DNA.  It is essential to our physical, emotional, and spiritual well-being.  And when we refuse to stop, we work in direct opposition to the way we have been made.  

Look no further than Genesis 2:2-3 and Exodus 20:11 for ample evidence.  After God himself had created the heavens and the earth, and all within it, he stopped.  The Hebrew word is shabath, which means “to stop or cease.”  God himself stopped.  But that’s not all God did, he also rested.  The Hebrew word for rest is nuwach (Exodus 20:11), which means “to settle in.”  God not only stopped, but he also settled in to the stopping.  He lived there for a day each week, and invites us to do the same.  This stopping and this settling in is a part of who he is, and since we are made in his image and likeness it is essential for us as well.  It is deeply woven onto the very fabric of our being, and when we refuse to do it, it tears at the image of God that was breathed into each of us.  It is essential to the living out of God’s very good (Genesis 1:31) creation.

So what are we to do?  Maybe we are to embrace, rather than resist, this pause that has been pressed for us.  Maybe God is trying to get our attention.  Maybe he is trying to teach us something.  Maybe we can use this time to allow him to teach us a few things about the way he designed life to work.  Maybe we can practice stopping and settling in, so that when life gets back to a sense of normalcy we might actually be better for having learned the lessons this season is trying to teach us.  If we will continue to battle the obsession (if not addiction) to go and to do, maybe we will begin to learn how to be.  Then we might actually become more like the people he intended us to be.  And that would indeed be very good.

Wednesday, March 18, 2020

a new season

"There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under heaven. . .a time to embrace and a time to refrain. . . .He has made everything beautiful in its time." (Ecclesiastes 3:1, 5, 11)

If you are like me, your emotions have been all over the place for the past few weeks, and it sounds like there is plenty more to come.  In light of that, one of the best responses I've heard to craziness and chaos of the times we are living in came from a dear friend: "I'm just asking God what it looks like to love well in light of all that's happening in the world right now."  What a great question!  One I think we all need to be asking ourselves.

What does it look like for me, specifically, to love well right now?  Particularly at a time when the medical professionals are telling us that the best way (physically) to love people right now, especially those who are most vulnerable, is to stay away from each other.  It seems so counterintuitive.  After all, we were made out of community (the Trinity), for community (each other), so how can we live in community when we are apart?  Another great question.

We have the tendency to define love as presence, and we are taken aback when the most loving thing we can do is be absent.  But what if physical absence opens the door for a new kind of presence?  Jesus said, "It is better for you that I go away, for unless I do the Counselor will not come." (John 16:7)  His absence was setting the stage for a new and lasting presence.  I get that.  I have experienced times and season when it felt like my presence was more of a hindrance than a help.  It seemed to be getting in the way of what God wanted to do, rather than making space for it to happen.  During those seasons I have had to take a step back.  It is not a bad thing, it's just different.  After all, hasn't he made everything beautiful in its time?  Thus, physical presence is not always necessary, and absence is not always bad.  It is just making room for some new way of being to be born among and within us.  Sometimes the very best thing we can do for each other is to pray, and let God be the one who shows up in the lives and hearts of those we love.  Maybe we are not actually as essential as we think we are.  Who knows, maybe God is leading us toward a season of absence in order that he might be more present.

Having said that, we also live in a day and age when physical absence doesn't necessarily mean relational, emotional, or spiritual absence.  Now, more than ever, we have so many ways to be with each other without having to be physically present.  Maybe God wants us to be creative and open and totally dependent on him.  This new season creates both challenges and opportunities.  If the most loving thing we can do for each other right now is stay home, then what does it look like to love each other well as we are doing that?  Honestly, I have no clue.  The answer to that question is up to you and God.  I have been incredibly encouraged, however, by some of the brainstorming and conversations I've heard about.  It seems like many are attacking the situation rather than bemoaning it, which is a great thing given the opportunity to love people at a time when we all are so incredibly vulnerable.  What better time to ask the question of what it means to love well.

For me that opportunity involves investing more time and space and energy in writing.  It is always something I say I want to do, yet, when push comes to shove, other things end up getting in the way.  Now I have no excuse.  Besides, one of the things I have really noticed over the past ten years has been the fruitfulness of the time and space invested in that area.  By far the comments I hear most often are those about how the time and space offered by my books (and that is all God and none of me) helps people connect with Jesus in a wonderfully intimate way. And let's be real, that has nothing to do with my writing and everything to do with God's faithfulness to enter in, once we offer him the time and space.  My only hope is that my writing helps that process, rather than getting in the way.  The speaking and retreat leading and traveling around being with people are really fun, but are mostly the result of what God has already been doing in the lives and hearts of folks through the books.  The rest is gravy.  My presence at those events and venues is not even necessary.  He has been working long before I arrived on the scene, and much more powerfully, I might add.

So my challenge and opportunity during this strange season we find ourselves in, is to continue to learn how to engage folks hearts through writing.  It is to pay careful attention to what God is doing deep in my soul and to get it down on paper (or computer) in such a way that it produces the same type of space for God (and his word) to engage others.

What about you?  What is God calling you to in this new season?  How is he asking you to love well?  And what does that specifically look like?  It might look really different from the way it has for the last months or years of your life and ministry, but that's okay, for he has made everything beautiful in its time.


Tuesday, March 17, 2020

do not fear

Okay, I have to come clean.  For the past several days I have been living my life in a lot of fear.  Fear of the unknown.  Fear of the known, yet uncontrollable.  Fear that I will not be able to provide for and protect the ones I love.  Fear that my resources (physically, spiritually, emotionally, financially, etc.) are going to run out.

And when I live in fear, I get ultra-reactive. “Oh no!  What am I going to do?  What if this happens?  What then?  And what about this and this and this?”  It is an all too familiar inner dialogue, one that drives me to a very dark and desperate place.

Luckily, however, God doesn’t leave me there for long.  For into the midst of this chaos and panic and confusion comes the voice of reason.  A voice that typically finds it source in the Word, and then quickly finds its way deep into my heart and soul.  It is the voice of hope and the voice of encouragement and the voice of love.  It is the voice of peace and the voice of courage and the voice of truth.  It is the only voice that can drive away the fear.  It is the voice of God—the one who made me uniquely and loves me dearly.

It is the voice of the One who says: “Do not fear, for I am with you; do not be afraid, for I am your God.  I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.” (Isaiah 41:10)  It seems like God always has the right thing to say.  And I, for one, am so grateful.

O Lord, do not allow us to let fear overwhelm and consume us.  Give us the strength and the courage to not let it determine the state of our hearts and minds.  For living in fear makes us the very worst version of ourselves.  Help us, O Lord, instead, to live our lives in love and faith and trust.  Hold us fast in your righteous right hand.  Amen

Wednesday, March 11, 2020

drifting

We must pay more careful attention, therefore, to what we have heard, so that we do not drift away. (Hebrews 2:1, NIV)

Drifting is such an easy thing to do, that’s why it’s such a danger in the life of faith.  All it takes is for us to get so caught up in "playing in the surf" that before we know it we are so far down the beach that we have completely lost sight of where we began.  And the scary part is that we don’t do this knowingly; our lack of attention allows us, imperceptibly, to be carried away by the unseen currents of culture, commentary, and circumstance.  Paul referred to it as being conformed to the pattern of this world, rather than being transformed by the renewing of our minds by the power of the Holy Spirit (Romans 12:2).  For only when we are holding fast to his word and his truth can we truly know what God’s will is—his good, pleasing, and perfect will.  

Thus, it is apparently not always the big things in the spiritual life that we need to worry about, but the more subtle, unnoticeable ones—like drifting, dulling, and hardening.  That is probably why the writer of Hebrews warns us to pay careful to what we have heard, lest we drift away. What we have heard—the truth about who God is, who we are, and what life is really all about—is to act as our anchor; to provide us with moorings that will hold us safe and secure in a world and a culture that is adrift from the truth.  Otherwise, the voices of this postmodern age might carry us off and convince us that there really is no objective truth, that each of us is free to create and determine his or her own.  In a culture that values inclusion, tolerance, and autonomy beyond all else, this can prove to be quite a challenge; a great deal of attentiveness is required.


That's why the Word of God is so important in this day and age (as it has been in all others).  That is why its inspiration and authority must always be upheld.  The Word of God is where we are reminded of the truth: of who God is, of what he says about us, and of what kind of lives he calls us to live.  That is why we must continually pay careful attention to our spiritual foundation (what we know in our minds to be true about God), for upon it the whole rest of our lives (formation and vocation) is built.  Thus, we must continue to work on our foundation with the same diligence that we work on our formation (our relational knowing of God) and our vocation (how we express God in our lives and world).  Otherwise, we will be far too easily lured into ways of thinking and seeing and being that are not at all consistent with what God really desires for us.

Lord Jesus, thank you that you are the same yesterday, today, and forever.  Thank you that when I hold tightly to you, and your Word, I will never drift away.  Amen.

Saturday, March 7, 2020

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 February 26 (Ash Wednesday).

Monday, March 2, 2020

lies

The biggest temptation in life is to give in to the lie that we are not who God says we are.  Therefore, the voices we choose to listen to are key.  Will we listen to the voice of the culture, the voice of our enemy, or the voice of the God who made us beautifully and loves us dearly?  It’s up to us.  Will we listen to the voice of the one who came to kill, steal, and destroy, or will we listen to the voice of the One who came to give us life abundantly? (John 10:10)

The voice of our God says: “You are my son, my daughter, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.”  And the voice of our enemy says: “If you really are the son or daughter of God, prove it.” (Mt. 3:16-4:11)  I don’t know about you, but I have spent just about every day of my life trying to prove to myself and my world that I am worth loving.  It is as consuming as it is exhausting.  

For we live in a world that says, “You are what you do, you are how you look, or you are what you have.  It’s all about how you perform, about how you stack up against those around you.  Do more, be more, and have more or you will get left behind.  Others will get the attention and affection you so desperately desire.  After all, there’s only so much love and admiration to go around, so you better make sure you get yours, even if it’s at the expense of others.”

But we don’t have to live that way.  We don’t have to live according to the lies.  After all, Jesus himself said that it is “the truth that sets us free.”  God created us for so much more than the scarcity we tend to live out of.  He created us for abundance.  His love is both unlimited and unfailing, it will not run out.  He is the only one who can give us the love and affection that is able to satisfy our deepest longings.  You see, identity can never be achieved, it can only be bestowed.  And it can only be bestowed by the One who made us.  We are of infinite value in his eyes, not because of what we do or how we look or what we have, but because of who we are.  Or, more appropriately, because of whose we are.  Only when we live out of that truth can we have any hope of living the free and whole and loving lives he created us to live.

After all, that’s why the Spirit led Jesus into the wilderness in the first place.  It was an offensive move.  It was to wage war.  It was restore our God-given identities.  The forty days and forty nights in the desert were symbolic of the forty years the people of God wondered in the wilderness.  The temptations that Jesus faced, and defeated, were pretty much the same temptations the Israelites succumbed to.  Jesus was reversing the effects of the fall.  He was going into the wilderness to do battle with the enemy for our God-breathed identities.  It was a journey that began in the wilderness and ended at the cross and the empty tomb.  Jesus was showing us that we, like him, are the beloved.  He was making a way for us to reclaim, and live out of, our true identities.

And even though it is a battle that has already been won, we certainly don’t live as though it has.  For some reason we still let the lies enslave us.  Jesus has given us the power and the ability and the freedom to reclaim and live out of his deep love and affection, rather than out of the lies of the enemy.  The only question is: Will we?  Will we listen to and live out of his truth, or will we continue to be controlled by the lies of the enemy?  The choice is ours.

Friday, February 28, 2020

lilies

"Like a weaned child is my soul within me." (Psalm 131:2)

Don't I wish!  Yet the reality within me tells a different story.  I long for this to be true: to have a stilled and quieted soul, to be like a weaned child, safe in the loving arms of its mother.  But that is simply not my reality most days.  In fact, it's quite the opposite.  Even after praying this line every Friday for almost three years. . .not so much.  My soul is still consumed and chaotic, churning and spinning with all of the worries and concerns of this life that I simply can't seem to let go of.  Oh how I wish I could be like the lilies of the field who do not labor or spin. (Luke 12:27)  But I am not.  Instead my mind and my heart and my soul are like a broken record, constantly playing and replaying conversations and scenarios and circumstances that will probably never even come to pass.  It's maddening.

But I'll have to admit, that even in the midst of all this spinning, I am still so grateful to have the words of this ancient prayer to offer hope that such a life is indeed possible.  That one day I will be so deeply convinced that God really is both able and willing to care for me, and all of my worries and fears, that I can actually trust him, and simply be, just like the lilies.

Tuesday, February 25, 2020

the real work

It may be that when we no longer know what to do, 
we have come to our real work 
and when we no longer know which way to go,
we have begun our real journey.
The mind that is not baffled is not employed.
The impeded stream is the one that sings.

                                  ~Wendell Berry


How necessary it is in the spiritual life to "come to the end of ourselves."  Oh sure, we can go through life pretending like we have it all together, like we actually know where we are going and what we are doing, but there comes a day when all of that comes crashing down--and, unfortunately, it usually takes a crash.  There comes a time when we see all too clearly that what we have experienced of God, and of life, up to that point was just a prelude for the work God really wanted to do.  And now we are finally ready, he just needed to get our egos out of the way first.  So he allowed us to run out of gas, or into a brick wall.  Just enough to stop us in our tracks.  A severe mercy, some might call it.  Not something we would have chosen, but something that we would never trade.  A difficult time and a hard season that brought us to a spacious and abundant place.  A place where we were finally able to stop trying and start being.  Because that's when the best work, the real work, takes place.  It just took a while to get us there. 



Saturday, February 15, 2020

prove it

“If you are the Son of God. . . .” (Matthew 4:3, 6)  And there you have it.  The enemy tips his hand right from the start.  His chief strategy for attacking Jesus, as well as attacking us, is to go straight for our identity.  The greatest temptation Jesus faced in the wilderness was not hunger, or the loneliness, or even power, but the temptation to try and prove himself.  “If you are the Son of God, then prove it.”

That’s why God gave him those beautiful words after his baptism, to remind him of who he really was.  Before Jesus had performed one miracle, or healed one disease, he was told by God that he was Beloved.  It was not something he had to achieve, it was not something he had to prove, it was a truth he was given to live out of.  How incredibly kind of the Father it was to remind him of the truth, because in the wilderness Jesus would encounter all kinds of lies.  The core lie being: “You are really not the Son of God.”

Why should we expect that our greatest temptation in the spiritual life—and the biggest lie we tend to believe—would be any different?  I don’t know about you, but my doubts about the fact that I am worth be loved, and my desperate need to prove myself (and my value), infect everything I do.  And when I live out of that dark place I am not able to be the fearful and wonderful creation that God made me to be.  In fact, I become the very worst version of myself: possessive, controlling, competitive, demanding, defensive, aggressive, insecure.

That’s why I am so grateful that Jesus comes to each of us and says, “Do not give in to this desperate need to try and prove yourself.  You have nothing to prove!  Your identity and your value have already been determined long, long ago.  They have been bestowed upon you.  Nothing you can do can change that.  Live in that truth and in that freedom, because if you don’t it will keep you from being the loving, grateful, humble man I created you to be.”

Friday, February 14, 2020

you are loved

"Like a weaned child with it's mother is my soul within me." (Psalm 131:2) You are LOVED!


     shhh

you press your finger
to my lips
to gently quiet
the voices
without and within

hush now, my child
be still and quiet
my little one
just sit with me a while
and let me hold you

Monday, February 10, 2020

become less

what if john and jesus were right
what if the point of this life 
was not to become more
but to become less

how profoundly different
this world would be
in the best possible way

right would give way to love
pride would succumb to humility
other would take precedence over self
and revelation would replace validation

affirmation and admiration
would be things of the past
and hiddenness and service
would be the treasure in the field

for trying to become more
always leads to far less
and becoming less
always makes us more

it is the dying of self
that leads to real life

Sunday, January 26, 2020

down is up

What a pivotal moment in the life of Simon Peter (Matthew 16:21-28).  He has just made his profession of Jesus as the Christ, and has been rewarded with a new name and a new identity.  From now on his true name is no longer Simon Bar-Jonah, but Peter—the rock.  On top of that, he has just been given the keys to the kingdom of heaven, to bind and to loose.  What a huge responsibility!  Can you imagine being given such power and authority?  That’s probably why Jesus then began to tell Peter exactly what that meant, and exactly what it was supposed to look like. Because what it was supposed to look like was very different from what Peter imagined.

In fact, life with Jesus often leads in the exact opposite direction of what we might expect.  Life with Jesus is about self-sacrifice rather than self-actualization.  In the kingdom of God, we find our lives by losing them.  Life with Jesus is about dependence rather than independence, about powerlessness rather than power, about stepping down rather than climbing up.  Life with Jesus is about descending rather than ascending.  In the kingdom of God, down is up, and Peter needed to learn that.

That’s why Jesus immediately began to tell Peter, and the other disciples, about his suffering and death.  Almost as if to say, “Peter, this way you are on—this life of following me—always leads downward.”

But Peter had something very different in mind.  Peter was about moving up, ruling in power, and sitting on a throne.  He was like, “No Jesus, we are not going down, we are going up.  That’s the plan I signed up for.”

To which Jesus responded, “Get behind me Satan!  You are a stumbling block to me; you do not have in mind the things of God, but the things of men.  The “things of men” are all about trying to move up, but I am about moving down.  And if you want to follow me, that’s where this life will lead. For down is up in the kingdom of God.  Are you with me?”

Well, are you?

Lord Jesus, I get it backwards so often.  Forgive me.  Forgive me when I make this life about me rather than about you.  Forgive me when I pursue praise and acclaim and admiration more than I seek you.  Forgive me when I try to climb up rather than following you on the downward way.  Help me, Lord Jesus, to always have in mind the things of God rather than the things of men.  Amen. 

Monday, January 20, 2020

empty is full

Jesus emptied himself (Phil. 2:5-7), and calls on us to do the same.  The King of Kings stepped down out of the throne room of heaven and came to earth, becoming a mere man.  The Lord of Lords set aside divine privilege and took on the form of the lowliest servant.  The Immortal God took off his immortality and took on flesh and blood.  The Eternal One stepped into the limits of time and space and became a helpless baby.  It is an emptying that none of us can fully understand or appreciate, but one we are called to emulate.

But we must understand that this emptying is not merely for empty’s sake; it is an emptying that is intended to make room for a filling.  Jesus emptied himself of self—if it is even possible to say that—in order that God could exalt him to the highest place and give him the name that is above every name.

In the spiritual life, emptying is always meant to make room for a filling.  We empty ourselves of self, not just so we will be empty, but in order that we might be filled with the life and love of God.  Fullness is God’s ultimate desire for us—as it was for Jesus—but fullness can only be arrived at by way of empty.

So by all means let us have the same attitude that was also in Christ Jesus, and let us empty ourselves in order that we may be full of God.  So full, in fact, that we overflow—with his life and love—into the lives of all who cross our paths.  That’s what the kingdom is all about.

Friday, January 17, 2020

low is high


“To some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everybody else, Jesus told this parable.” (Luke 14:7, NIV)  

Sort of grabs your attention right from the start, doesn’t it?  Definitely cringeworthy, probably because we each see that tendency in ourselves.  For in order to look down on someone else, you have to have raised yourself above them at some point.  The problem is that it’s usually a very subtle thing; we do it without even realizing it.  That is until we are confronted with it in story form, then it’s easier to see.

So Jesus tells us a story.  He wades into the dark places of the heart with the light of truth.  He sets up a contrast that’s sure to get our attention and shake us up a little, if not a lot.  On the one hand there is a Pharisee—religious, pious, wise, right, and sure—who challenges each of us to acknowledge and examine the state of our own hearts, minds, and souls.  And on the other hand is the tax collector. A tax collector!  Of all things!  Jesus might as well have selected a scammer, a computer hacker, or a telemarketer.  Tax collectors were the scum of the earth in those days, the lowest of the low, the lostest of the lost.  And yet in this story, as is often the case with Jesus, the outcast is set up as the hero—the one who sees things as they truly are, rather than through the lenses of his own self-importance and self-righteousness.

And the point of the story?  Simply that if you live your life trying to raise yourself up—trying to climb higher, in your own eyes or the eyes of others—you are setting yourself up for a fall.  But if you recognize your desperate need for Jesus, and your inability to make things (anything really) “right” on your own, then there is good space within you for God to come in and fill you with his love and mercy.

For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted. (Luke 14:11, 18:14, NIV)  Did you get that?  Everyone who humbles himself.  Not just everyone who gets humbled by life’s circumstances, but the one who humbles himself.  Those two are very different.  Humbling yourself calls for an active, ongoing process—the process of continually lowering ourselves.

The Greek word for exalt (hypsoō) means to elevate.  Which is a wonderful and terrible word, especially in reference to something we are trying to do to ourselves.  Jesus wants us to know clearly that everyone who tries to elevate himself will be humbled.  And the Greek word translated humble in this passage (tapeinoō) means to bring low.  Thus, if your life is about elevating yourself, you are in for a wild ride, but if your life is about bringing yourself low, then you are right where God wants you.  There is actually room in your life for God to move and to work and to act.

So let us always remember that in the kingdom of God things are often backwards: less is more, small is big, low is high, and last is first.  Only when we empty ourselves of self, can we possibly be made full.  Lord, have mercy!

Wednesday, January 15, 2020

small is big

In the kingdom of God (Luke 13:18-19), small is big.  What starts out tiny and hidden and insignificant and unrecognizable, often grows into something so big and so beautiful that it offers life and love to all who come in contact with it, in a ways that the big and the brash and the arrogant and the visible simply cannot.  I think that’s because the small and the quiet and the humble offers room for God to move and to work and to act.  Whereas the big and the loud and the boastful takes up all the space itself.

So let us be about the small things today: a kind word, a loving touch, a listening ear, a warm smile, an unseen act.  For these are the things the kingdom is made of.

Lord Jesus, thank you that you are found in the small things.  Thank you that you came into this world as a baby, and you departed from it as a sacrifice.  There is so much we still need to learn from you.  Lord, have mercy.  Amen.