What is this new heaven and new earth you are bringing about within me, Lord Jesus? (Rev. 21:1-5) This New Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven, or coming up from the depths of my soul, or coming about in my life or ministry, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. Preparing me for her and her for me, until the time of consummation has arrived. For you, O Lord, are always making all things new, even me. Come, Lord Jesus.
Starting a new feature for the next several months called Book of the Month. I will present one of my books and tell you a little of the ...
Wednesday, September 22, 2021
When I finally begin to understand that life is not about me, then maybe, just maybe, I will begin to finally make some progress in the spiritual life. Only then will I start being the person God made me to be—someone meant to reflect his glory and embody his love, rather than being consumed with myself. For in the kingdom of God, we find our lives by losing them.
“Don’t get consumed spinning around in your own little story,” Jesus is telling us, “but get swept up into the grand narrative of all that God is doing in time and eternity. As long as life is about you, you’re going to live such a tiny, limited, miserable existence, and I am inviting you to so much more than that. I am inviting you into a life so much bigger and so much more beautiful and more noble than you could imagine. Don’t miss it.”
Forgive me, Lord Jesus, when I somehow become convinced that life is more about me, than it is about you. Help me, this day, to learn what it means "to lose my life, in order that I may find it." Amen.
Sunday, September 19, 2021
Friday, September 17, 2021
Wednesday, September 15, 2021
“Overwork makes for restless sleep. Overtalk shows you up as a fool.” (Ecclesiastes 5:3, MSG)
Leave it up to us to turn a vice into something praiseworthy. Deep inside our broken and dysfunctional hearts, we carry a secret pride—although we never would admit it—in our overwork. In our hidden places, we think of it as something noble and heroic. In fact, we tend to wear it like a merit badge.
Yet, truth be told, overwork always comes down to two things—fear and insecurity. Either we don’t think God can do it without us (whatever it may be), or we’re terrified that he will. And I’m not really sure which is worse.
Our tendency to overwork is an addiction of the highest degree. It comes from a desperate need to prove to ourselves and our world—and even our God—that we are worth loving. It comes from an attempt to make our name great, rather making His name great. It comes from our propensity to try and make ourselves bigger, rather than smaller. And, in the process, it robs us of life and health, joy and peace. It leaves us so worn down and burnt out that we have nothing of substance to offer those to whom God has entrusted to our care.
Maybe it’s time to “work smarter, not harder.” Maybe it’s time to really trust God the way we say we do. Maybe it’s time to allow him to direct our steps and order our days. Maybe it’s time that our lives became about his kingdom and his glory, rather than our own. And it all starts with coming first to him.
Tuesday, September 14, 2021
“Using a dull ax requires great strength, so sharpen the blade. That’s the value of wisdom; it helps you succeed.” (Ecclesiastes 10:10, NLT)
Sometimes the most godly thing we can do is just take a day off; to take some time away to renew and restore and recharge—to sharpen the ax so that we can be more fruitful and effective in the work God has given us to do.
But, for some reason, we resist and refuse rest. Could it be that somewhere along the line we have convinced ourselves that everything actually depends on us? Breaking that mentality is a very difficult thing to do because it requires a healthy dose of humility. And humility is not something we are drawn to. Humility involves becoming smaller, and most of our time and energy is devoted to becoming larger. Humility requires us to admit, or come to terms with the fact, that it does not, in fact, depend on us at all, but on God.
The sick part is that somehow we really want it to depend on us. Maybe that’s what keeps us from rest in the first place. For there is a terrible fear that goes along with being unnecessary. And, unfortunately, making ourselves more necessary than we really are is one of the primary occupations and temptations of the life of ministry.
O Lord, forgive me when I refuse to stop and rest. Forgive me when I have made myself so important that I have allowed the blade of my soul to grow so dull that it is simply not fit for the life of ministry you have called me to. Teach me what it means, O Lord, to sharpen the ax. Not only for my sake, but for the sake of your kingdom and your work. Amen.
Wednesday, September 8, 2021
“God, my shepherd! I don’t need a thing.” (Psalm 23:1, MSG)
If our deepest needs for love and impact are not being met in Jesus, we will try to have them met elsewhere. And when we need the very people we are called to love and serve, it’s a recipe for disaster. Only prayer can free us from the need to be needed.
Free me, O God, from the need to impress and achieve and perform. Free me from the need for applause and affirmation and response. Free me to love and serve, rather than to demand and manipulate. Help me to live my life from a place of love, rather than a place of need. I can only do this in you. Amen.
Sunday, September 5, 2021
Thursday, August 26, 2021
Tuesday, August 24, 2021
Friday, August 20, 2021
“While his parents were returning home, the boy Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem, but they were unaware of it. Thinking he was in their company, they traveled on for a day. Then they began looking for him among their relatives and friends. When they did not find him they went back to Jerusalem to look for him.” (Luke 2:43-45)
We are people on a mission. Which, for the most part, is a really great thing. The problem comes when we charge ahead with our own plans and agendas and leave Jesus behind. And we are usually a good bit down the road before we even discover that he is missing. If it wasn’t so tragic, it would be comical.
Life with God always starts with stopping. We have to stop, look, and listen. We have to allow God to be the one to set the direction, the tone, and the agenda. Otherwise, we are not really following him at all, we are just following ourselves.
Wednesday, August 18, 2021
There’s been a lot of conversation lately about self-care, and for good reason. If we do not take care of ourselves, if we do not take steps to maintain our physical, mental, and spiritual well-being, we will be of little to no value to others. We will be so busy spinning around in our own little lives that we will not be able to love them and serve them the way God called us to.
The problem is that self-care can so easily turn into self-consumption, if we are not careful. Self-care can subtly become an end in itself, and it was never intended to be that way. A soul turned in on itself will eventually become lifeless and stagnant and desolate. As the old saying goes, “The Dead Sea is dead for a reason—no outflow.”
You see, we are not the center of the universe, God is. We were made by him and we were made for him. (Eph. 2:10) The “for” part is the part we tend to forget. We were made for God, he was not made for us. God does not revolve around us, we revolve around him. It is so easy to forget that. It is easy to get so lost in our smaller stories, that we miss the larger story he has invited us into—his story. Thus, self-care was never intended to be simply for self’s sake, but for God’s sake. It was meant to help us be the people he made us to be and do the things he’s called us to do.
Friday, August 13, 2021
“In him was life and that life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. There came a man who was sent from God; his name was John. He came as a witness concerning that light, so that through him all men might believe. He himself was not the light; he came only as a witness to the light. The true light that gives light to every man was coming into the world.” (John 1:4-9)
Thursday, August 12, 2021
Sunday, August 8, 2021
“The tragedy of life is not in the fact of death, but in what dies inside us while we live.” ~Norman Cousins
Wednesday, August 4, 2021
If I have learned anything in my 18 years as chaplain of the Powell High football program it is how to stay out of the way. And staying out of the way is much harder than it seems. In fact, it is an art form. Staying out of the way requires an active, thoughtful, intentional state of heart and mind. It is born out of the realization that there is a much larger story going on here than just you. In fact, you aren't the point at all. Your job is just to show up, pay attention, be available, and listen. Your job is to not impede or hinder that larger story, but to support and encourage it whenever and however possible. Which is an incredibly humbling position to be in.
I don't know about you, but I am not great at staying out of the way. In fact, sometimes my tendency to interrupt, insert, and initiate actually gets in the way of what God is up to, rather than encouraging and nurturing it. It becomes about my agenda more than it does about his. You see, far too often I tend to operate out of need: the need to be heard, the need to be seen, the need to be significant, the need to make an impact, the need to put my two cents in. In fact, I tend to operate out of this weird combination of pride and insecurity far more than I'd care to admit. And when I do this, it becomes more about my story than it does about God's story. I can't tell you how many times through the years I have walked away from a conversation or an encounter thinking, "Oh wow, I really missed it there." (Here's a great example, if you're interested: a do-over . It comes from a time I did that with a couple of friends who were in some really, really deep grief)
So needless to say, all of these years with the football program have been great for me. I need as much practice as I can get learning the art of staying out of the way.
Saturday, July 31, 2021
What’s your yes? I know, I know, it’s a weird question, at least on the surface anyway. But underneath it is profound. In fact, it’s a question that forces you down to your core. It is a question that begs you to discover who you were made to be and to define that thing, or those things, you were placed on this earth to do. For if you don’t know your yes, how can you ever hope to become all you were dreamt to be?
One of the keys to the spiritual journey is to know your yes, and then to arrange your life around that one imperative. To do those things that are important, rather than merely urgent. To focus your life on what is central, rather than being constantly distracted by what is peripheral. You must allow your yes to propel you to do only the things that help you to be all you were made to be. And you must allow that yes to teach you what you are meant to do, as well as what you are not meant to do. Knowing your yes is what allows you to also say no. The problem is that most people have a hard time saying no simply because they have never really discovered their yes.
So we must stop and reflect and pray. We must seek and listen and pay attention. We must find our yes, so that we will not constantly be at the mercy of our circumstances. So we can live proactive, rather than reactive lives.
More and more, I find myself in conversations with people who feel like life is living them, rather than like they are living their lives. Somehow, somewhere, it all spun out of control and they are having a hard time getting it back. The truth is that so many of us tend to live at the mercy of our schedules, but I do not think this is how we were intended to live.
Let me ask you a question: Does your schedule control you, or do you control your schedule? Are you schedule-driven, or God-led. And no, the two do not have to be mutually exclusive, but most often they are. It takes a good bit of thoughtful intention to achieve some sense of congruence between your daily schedule and the lives God wants you to live. It all depends on where you start. It all starts with knowing your yes. It all starts by asking God who he made you to be and what he wants you to do. That way your daily “to do” list will always flow from the more significant things in life rather than the trivial. And you will begin to live the life that you most deeply want to live. Or, more importantly, you will begin to live the life that God wants to live in and through you.
Yes, Father! Yes! And always yes! ~Francis de Sales
Sunday, July 25, 2021
“Blessed are those who find their strength is in you, who have set their hearts on pilgrimage.” Psalm 84:5)
“At the end of my trip to Canada, the United States, and England, about which I wrote in this journal, I met a young man who told me about his own spiritual journey in a way that helped me to think about this second loneliness. He said, ‘First I was traveling on a highway with many other people. I felt lonely in my car, but at least I was not alone. Then Jesus told me to take an exit and follow a winding country road which was pleasant and beautiful. People who passed by greeted me, smiled, and waved to me; I felt loved. But then, quite unexpectedly, Jesus asked me to take a dirt road, leave the car, and walk with him. As we were walking we did not see anyone anymore; although I knew that I was walking with Jesus, I felt very lonely and often in despair. I was tired and felt forgotten by my friends. Now it looked as if I was getting more lonely as I was getting closer to Jesus. And nobody seemed to understand.’” —The Road to Daybreak by Henri J. M. Nouwen
Thursday, July 22, 2021
Monday, July 19, 2021
“What should I do on my sabbatical?”
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been asked that question through the years. And it’s such a difficult question to answer, because it’s a question that’s dripping with irony. “What should I do on my sabbatical?” I always want to respond, “Wait, what? Is this a trick question?” After all, isn’t the point of a sabbatical not to do anything? Isn’t it about making time and space to rest and renew and recover? And isn’t the essence of rest to stop doing and to start being? Which means that instead of asking, “What should I do on my sabbatical?” we need to start by asking, “What should I not do on my sabbatical?” That would make a lot more sense, for a sabbatical seems to be a lot more about undoing than it does about doing. Undoing all of those misguided beliefs, hidden agendas, and dysfunctional patterns that got us so worn out, exhausted, and overextended in the first place.
No matter how we try to dress it up, or rationalize it, the fact is that we are addicted to doing. I mean, it’s a terrifying leap from doing to not doing. Am I right? Why else would we fill our lives so full of activity that there is no room, no margin, and no breath? Mostly because so much of our worth and value is tied up in what we do. Which makes not doing such a difficult, if not impossible, proposition. Because in the deepest places of our hearts we are convinced that “If I’m not doing, then I have no value.” We have bought into the lie, and it runs deep.
Therefore, it is going to take a lot of time and space and silence and stillness and listening and prayer—a lot of undoing—to root it all out. It’s going to take us turning off our phones and taking off our headphones and shutting off our computers. It’s going to take a lot of shutting our mouths and opening our ears. It’s going to take a lot of savoring the words of the Scriptures and giving the Spirit of God time and space to have free reign in the deepest places of our hearts and souls. It’s going to require us to stop trying to produce, control, manufacture, achieve, and accomplish.
A sabbatical is a time and a season where we lie fallow (Lev. 25:3-5) and allow God to renew, replenish, and restore us. As Steve Macchia once said, “A sabbatical is to be a time of rest, not a time of redirected productivity.” Which means that maybe the best answer to the question of “What should I do on my sabbatical?” is, “Nothing. Absolutely nothing. Sit. Relax. Breathe. Stroll. Savor. Enjoy. Rest.” If we can do those things, then we might actually be heading in the right direction.
Saturday, July 17, 2021
Some things look much easier than they actually are. Stopping, for instance.
When we were first married, my wife won a free weekend at a ski resort in North Carolina as a part of a sales contest at her work. Neither one of us grew up snow skiing, but it sounded like fun, and it was, after all, absolutely free. So we went for it.
Our ski chalet was right on the slopes, so we rented equipment, walked out our back door, and watched the skiers swooshing by. It didn’t look too hard, so we put on our skis and boots and decided to give it a try.
My wife took off first, heading straight downhill quickly and disappearing from sight, so I decided to do the same. And as I picked up speed, I had a shocking revelation: I did not know how to stop, or even to slow down, for that matter. In hindsight, it probably would have been something good to find out in advance.
So when you don’t know how to stop, there’s really only one solution; you start looking for the best place to crash. Which is exactly what I did; hoping to crash in as good a place and as soft a way as I could. But no dice. The crash was epic. And in the end, there I was, covered in snow, equipment littering the hillside.
As I was trying to gather myself and considering how I would gather all of my equipment, a bunch of little kids in ski school coasted by. Their teacher encouraging them the whole time with the words, “Pizza! French fries!”
“Ah, pizza,” I thought to myself. “That’s what I’m missing. That would have been good to know.”
We humans need stopping lessons. We are great at "french fries," but not so good at "pizza." And if we don’t know how to slow down and stop, the only other alternative is to crash. I guess that’s why God decided to weave stopping and resting into the story of creation (Genesis 2:2-3). And then to remind us of it again and again all throughout the Scriptures. He even put it in the Ten Commandments, reminding us that if God himself stopped and rested, how can we possibly expect it to be any different for us?
“Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy,” God told us in Exodus 20:8. “For in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but he rested on the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.” (Exodus 20:11)
From the very beginning God was giving us stopping lessons, because he knew how vital stopping and resting were to our being able to live the lives he intended us to live. How important they were in us becoming the people he dreamt us to be. In fact, when we refuse to stop and rest, we tear away at the image of God within us.
His stopping lessons included two things. First they involved stopping. That is what the word Sabbath literally means. Thus, we must stop regularly, or we will crash and burn. But as I learned the hard way on the ski slopes, stopping is not as easy as it seems. We tend to live our lives at a certain speed, which creates a certain momentum. Thus, we cannot expect to go one hundred miles an hour right up to the stop sign and stop on a dime. It just doesn’t happen that way. The momentum of our lives will carry us way past the stopping point. You see, stopping is a process, not a moment. Slowing must precede stopping. We can stop physically, but it will take a while for our heads and our hearts to catch up. We need to give them time and space to finally come to stillness. We need to install brakes in our soul, if you will, to combat the foot-on-the-gas, peddle-to-the-metal way that we typically live our lives. And then we need to learn how to start applying those brakes well in advance of the stop sign. That’s what many of the spiritual disciplines are for: silence, solitude, prayer, retreat, and sabbath keeping. If we can learn to live at a certain pace, and with a certain rhythm, we will become much more proficient in the art of slowing and then stopping. They will not just happen on their own.
But God didn’t just stop with stop, he also told us that we must settle in. That’s the literal meaning of the Hebrew word used for rest in Exodus 20:11 (nûaḥ). So not only must we learn how to stop, but we must also learn how to settle into that stopping. We must learn how to be fully present and alive and attentive to him and to ourselves in that resting. We must learn how to dwell with him, abide in him, and savor the time and connection with him. We must give free reign to the Spirit of God to form his very life in us, to breathe his Divine breath in us, that he may then breathe it through us.
We must make slowing and stopping and settling in a priority. It must become a part of our rhythm of life. Otherwise, the only alternative is to crash and burn. And take it from one who knows, that’s not a pretty sight.
Tuesday, July 13, 2021
Monday, July 12, 2021
Contrary to popular opinion, there is great spiritual value in groaning. In fact, groaning is a discipline and a practice that we all should become well-versed in. There is a lot of groaning in this life. The world is not at all what it was intended to be, and that can either drive us crazy, or it can drive us to God. It can make us frustrated and angry and bitter, or it can make us open and dependent and hopeful. It can create distance from God, or it can create intimacy with him, it all depends on how we respond.
Groaning is a response to suffering and pain that holds tightly to an unshakeable confidence in God’s goodness and love. It is a spiritual practice that deepens us and grows us, and can even arouse the Spirit of God within us. Groaning can be kind of like spiritual contractions that make a way for something new and beautiful to be born in and through us.
Paul tells us that groaning is something that creation does, something that we do, and something that even the Spirit of God does. (Rom. 8:18-27) Therefore, groaning is not just something to be endured, but something to be embraced. It is an invitation into deeper union with God, as he groans with and for us. Groaning creates depth and intimacy, if we do not let it devolve into grumbling. That’s where we often get into trouble.
Groaning and grumbling are very different. While groaning is a way of communing with God in the midst of our brokenness and pain, grumbling is the complete opposite. Grumbling is an accusation against God. Grumbling originates from a place within us that, because of our circumstances, refuses to truly believe that God is good. Thus, grumbling, by its very nature, separates while groaning connects.
The reality is that we are going to do one or the other, it is up to us which. We can learn how to groan, or we can wallow around in our grumbling. We can hold fast to God’s goodness and his love, or we can be full of doubt and despair. For if we never learn how to groan, grumbling is all that’s left. And it just goes downhill from there.
So which will it be?
Sunday, July 11, 2021
Wednesday, July 7, 2021
Then Jesus said to him, “Get up! Pick up your mat and walk.” (John 5:8)
In life with Jesus, there is always a story we must leave behind and a story we are invited to step into. The problem is that we can’t have one without the other. In order to accept the invitation to a new way of being and seeing, we must first be willing to leave behind the old.
The question then becomes: What does that mean for us today? What story is God calling us to leave behind and what story is us inviting me to step into? And will we?
Lord Jesus, forgive me when I am resistant to what you want to do in and through me. Give me the strength and the courage and the grace to “Get up! Pick up my mat and walk.” Whatever that may look like.
Monday, July 5, 2021
Thursday, July 1, 2021
Wednesday, June 30, 2021
“You gave me no kiss, but from the time I came in she has not stopped kissing my feet.” (Luke 7:47)
This verse stopped me in my tracks this morning. Years ago a very wise man told me that one of the best ways to practice loving your family was to give everyone a kiss whenever you leave and get home from work. “It will help keep your hearts tender and connected to each other,” he said. And although I haven’t been perfect, it was something I tried to incorporate into our lives as a family. There was a lot of kissing in our house.
But today I was reminded that I also need to do the same with Jesus. Giving and receiving kisses with him daily, does something really beautiful deep in our hearts and souls.
Lord Jesus, never let it be said that I failed to give you a kiss, today and every day.
Monday, June 28, 2021
Sunday, June 27, 2021
“Let him kiss me with the kisses of his mouth—for your love is more delightful than wine. Pleasing is the fragrance of your perfumes; your name is like perfume poured out. No wonder maidens love you! Take me away with you—let us hurry! Let the king bring me into his chambers.” (Song of Songs 1:2-4)
Forgive me, O Lord, when I settle for a life of duty, chore, and obligation, rather than experiencing the passion and the desire and the affection that you have for me. Help me to never settle for less than your kiss, your caress, your Divine embrace. Help me to never just give you “a peck on the cheek for want of making love.” Sometimes it’s just easier, but it’s not what I really want. I want more. I want you! Kiss me with the kisses of your mouth—for your love is more delightful than anything. Amen.
Wednesday, June 23, 2021
Sunday, June 13, 2021
“Everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.” (Luke 18:14) It is one thing to be humbled by life’s situations and circumstances, but it is quite another to pursue a lifestyle of actively humbling yourself. That takes a significant amount of courage and fortitude. It is one thing to feel small and forgotten and invisible, but it is another thing altogether to choose to make yourself those things. Yet that is what Jesus calls us to do.
In the kingdom of God last is first, low is high, and the least is the greatest. In the kingdom of God less is more, small is big, and poor is rich. In the kingdom of God the one who is honored is the one who serves, you save your life by losing it, and you become full by emptying yourself. All of which involves a conscious decision to move in the opposite direction of the culture around us. But when we do, it produces some of the very best fruit possible, both within and among us.
Humbling yourself is definitely not for the faint of heart, but for those who truly want to follow Jesus, wherever it may lead. Knowing that when they do, they become more and more like him. Which is what this life is about in the first place, right?
Lord Jesus, if we ever hope to become like you, we must consistently choose to humble ourselves. Give us the grace and the strength and the courage to do so. Amen.