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.

Monday, April 13, 2020

the resurrected jesus

“Finally the other disciple, who had reached the tomb first, also went inside.  He saw and believed.  They still did not understand from the Scriptures that Jesus had to rise from the dead.” (John 20:8-9)

He saw and believed, but they still did not understand.  You’ve got to love that.  We don’t have to figure it all out before we are able to believe.  In fact, if we wait until we “understand,” we will probably never come to Jesus at all.  It is not a prerequisite.  In fact, in some ways it is a hindrance.  If we do actually think we “understand,” it only shows that we probably don’t know the real Jesus in the first place, because he is always bigger than our understanding.  Life with Christ (especially during Eastertide) involves constantly letting go of the Jesus we think we’ve found, in order to discover that he is bigger and more glorious than we ever imagined.

Lord Jesus, thank you that you are bigger and more glorious than I could ever imagine.  Help me to believe, even though I don’t completely understand.  Amen. 

Sunday, April 12, 2020

the empty tomb

“Very early on the first day of the week, just after sunrise, they were on their way to the tomb and they asked each other, “Who will roll the stone away from the entrance of the tomb?  But when they looked up, they saw that the stone, which was very large, had been rolled away.” (Mark 16:2-4)

It was the women who made their way to your tomb at the first light of morning.  As soon as the sun came up, as soon as they were allowed to come, they came, bearing spices and perfumes to anoint your body.  Mary was particularly good at this anointing, she had done this before.  But this time was different.  This time they were tears of grief and sadness rather than joy and gratitude.  But her mourning would be short-lived, for the tomb, with its heavy stone, could not contain you.  The stone was rolled away, the tomb was empty, you were not there.  You had risen!  You were alive!  Sadness turned into bewildered hopefulness.  Could it be?  Could it really be true?  They left the empty tomb not quite knowing what to think, excited yet afraid.  But you did not leave them that way for long, for just outside the tomb you appeared to them yourself, the Risen Christ.  And from that moment on their lives would never be the same.  And because of that, neither will ours.  Thanks be to God!

Saturday, April 11, 2020

holy saturday and sabbath waiting

The women who had come with Jesus from Galilee followed Joseph and saw the tomb and how his body was laid in it.  Then they went home and prepared spices and perfumes.  But they rested on the Sabbath in obedience to the commandment. (Luke 23:55-56, NIV)

It is certainly no coincidence that the full day in which the body of Jesus laid in the tomb was the Sabbath day.  For as much as people might have wanted to “do” this or that in response to his suffering and death, they could not.  All they could “do” was wait.  Even God waited!  Even God observed the Sabbath!  He knew what Sunday would bring, and most likely could hardly wait for it’s coming, yet he did.  It was good and necessary for everyone to have some time and some space to let all that had just happened sink in.

Which is a good lesson for us: In the times when we are most apt to spring into action, it might be that immediate action is not the best plan.  Time and space to let things settle and sink in might be what is most needed.  Unfortunately, waiting is not always our strong suit.  We would do well to remember the words of a wise saint who once said: “When you’re waiting, you’re not doing nothing.  You’re doing the most important something there is.  You’re allowing your soul to grow up.  If you can’t be still and wait, you can’t become who God created you to be.” 

So thank goodness for Holy Saturday!

Friday, April 10, 2020

shall i not drink the cup?

if you were willing, O Christ
shall i not drink the cup as well?

if you held back nothing because of love
shall i not be poured out in full?

if you gave all that i might live
shall i too not empty myself of all?

who am i to think that
the same would not be asked of me?

may i never for comfort and ease, Lord Jesus
make you journey to the cross alone

Wednesday, April 8, 2020

the God who sees me

The angel of the Lord found Hagar near a spring in the desert; it was the spring that is beside the road to Shur.  And he said, “Hagar, servant of Sarai, where have you come from, and where are you going?” (Genesis 16:7-8)  

Where have you come from?  Where are you going?  Leave it to God to ask the best, most heart-probing questions.  For these are two of the most significant questions of life, and they are intimately linked to each other.  One almost always has a significant impact on the other.

So where have you come from?  What are the things and the people and the experiences that have formed who you are and how you think about things?  How do these experiences affect how you see yourself and how your react in certain situations?  How have these experiences contributed to the patterns and habits you find yourself stuck in these days?  And how are you in need of healing from those experiences, so that you might be the person, and live the life of love and peace and freedom that God most wants you to live?  Like I said, when God asks a question, he doesn’t play around.

And where are you going?  Where is God leading and guiding you in your life?  What are his deepest hopes and dreams for you?  What are your deepest hopes and dreams for yourself?  And is the life you are actually living headed in that direction?  If not, why not?  What direction is your life headed and how can you align it with the life that God most deeply wants for you?

These questions alone could be great content for a week-long retreat.  And if we are willing enough and brave enough to really ask them, and then to really listen for the answers, then they can be used of God to chart the course for the life God most deeply wants to live in and through us.  For, in some ways, God is the only one who can help us to know the real answers to these questions.  Some of our issues are buried so deeply in our memories that we have repressed them or avoided them or tried to escape them for decades.  “You are the God who see me.  I have now seen the One who sees me.” (Genesis 16:13, NIV)  Only “the God who sees us” is able to help us to properly discern and decipher and reflect upon all of this.

So invite the God who sees you to show you what he sees.  Give him the time and the space to help you accurately answer the questions “Where have you come from?  And where are you going?”  For he is the only one who can.  Blessings on your journey.

*Note: During these days of being homebound, it could provide some great time and space to really dig into these questions.  Take advantage of it if you are able.  I think it would prove to be a really valuable exercise.  Who knows what God might show you, and tell you.

Tuesday, April 7, 2020

Father, glorify your name

“The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified.  I tell you the truth, unless and kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed.  But if it dies, it produces many seeds. . . .Now my heart is troubled, and what shall I say?  ‘Father, save me from this hour’?  No, it was for this very reason I came to this hour.  Father, glorify your name.” (John 12:23-24, 27-28, NIV)

The time had come for the Son of Man to be glorified.  Interestingly enough, in these last days, whenever Jesus referred to this glorification, he was also referring to his death.  Somehow the two were intimately and mysteriously linked.  Somehow it was in doing what he had come to do—to bring glory to the name of the Father—that he himself would receive glory.  Somehow through the death of the kernel of wheat, that would then produce many seeds, God’s name was going to be glorified the most.  And that was the glory Jesus was really seeking; that was the very reason he had come.  His own glory was to do the will of his Father and bring glory to His name.

Why would we think it would be any different for us?  Our very life is not about us at all.  Our constant striving to make a name for ourselves and to receive honor and glory will always come up short.  That is until we finally begin to understand what Jesus was teaching us in this text.  It is the glory of the Father, and bringing glory to his name, that really matters.  And that happens only when we are willing to allow our own little kernel of wheat to fall to the ground and die, so that it might produce many seeds of life and love and peace.

O God, give us the same courage and strength and fortitude that you gave Jesus.  Help us to see that our glory will only come when we are willing to die in order to bring glory to your name. 

Monday, April 6, 2020

judas

So as the scene unfolds (John 12:1-8), we find ourselves at a dinner given in Jesus’ honor.  What a great place to be, right?  After all, it’s such a festive atmosphere; Lazarus is alive again and Jesus is the one responsible for it!  It’s time to celebrate.

With Lazarus reclining at the table and Martha serving—some things never change—Mary enters the room with a jar of expensive perfume and empties the entirety of its contents on Jesus’ feet, and then wipes his feet with her hair.  It is such an intimate and beautiful expression of extravagant love!  The fragrance of her affection filling the air and intoxicating all of the guests.

All except Judas, that is.  He sees this incredible expression of love and affection, and instead of enjoying its beauty, he objects to it.  He’s so focused on himself, and how everything affects him and his own little world, that he cannot celebrate.  He can only criticize. 

Sound familiar?  It does to me.  As much as I long to be like Mary in this story—or even being like Martha would be preferable—I often tend to be most like Judas.  I see someone doing a beautiful thing and instead of being able to appreciate it and celebrate it, my insecurities rise up and get the best of me.  I somehow see this beautiful expression of love as some kind of threat to my own worth and value, so I criticize.  I compare.  I jockey for position.  I spin a story in my own head about what is really going on in the heart of the giver that makes me feel better about myself.  Lord, have mercy.

I am so glad it is Holy Week.  I am such a mess and in such desperate need of all that will happen this week, as well as the next.  There is so still so much in me that needs to die.  There is still so much in me that needs to be raised up to new life again.  There’s still so much of me that needs to be nailed to the cross of Jesus and left there.

O Lord Jesus, please forgive me for being like Judas.  By your power, your love, and your grace, please make me more like Mary, this day and every day.  Amen. 

Sunday, April 5, 2020

an invitation to holy week

a long season of lent is finally coming to an end
but the beginning of the end involves a ride
a ride into the depths of death and dying
a painful but necessary journey
for a dying must take place
in order to make room for new life
in the kingdom of God
death always leads to new life
and so Jesus turns to each of us and asks
will you ride with me?

Friday, April 3, 2020

a prayer of trust

O Christ Jesus
When all is darkness
And we feel our weakness and helplessness,
Give us the sense of Your Presence,
Your Love and Your Strength.
Help us to have perfect trust
In Your protecting love
And strengthening power,
So that nothing may frighten or worry us,
For, living close to You,
We shall see Your Hand,
Your Purpose, Your Will through all things.

~St. Ignatius

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 mean 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.