at the end of the day
at the end of the day
Our affections can tell us a lot if we pay attention to them. Whoever, or whatever, has our heart is the person, or the thing, that determines most of our behavior. Because you can’t behave your way into love, you can only love your way into behavior. Jesus, first and foremost, does not want your activity, he wants your affection. He knows that if he has your affection, everything else will fall into place. It is how we are wired. The person, or the thing, you are most deeply in love with, and passionate about, will determine how you go about your days and how you live your life.
So, let me ask you, where is the romance in your life these days? Who, or what, possesses your deepest affections? Who, or what, is first; not in the sense of chronology, but priority? What do you spend most of your energy thinking and dreaming about? Who is the one you desire to spend most of your time with? Who, or what, gives you the most life and energy? If you pay careful attention to these questions, it can tell you a lot about your life, as well as your loves. You see, the thing about your affections is that they will always land somewhere. They are always seeking an object, whether you know it or not. Therefore, you need to be careful that their landing spot is worthy of them.
Jesus told the church at Ephesus, “You have abandoned your first love. (Rev. 2:4) You have allowed other people and other things to distract you and take your heart away from your first love—me. Others have become more important to you. And when you get your affections out of order, chaos ensues. Come back to me. Let your hearts be seized once again by the power of my Great Affection. Because everyone and everything else is a poor substitute for the love you were made for.”
Most of us did not set out to abandon our first love, it was a slow, steady drift. We got so distracted and consumed with the people and the things around us that before we knew it the tides had carried us miles and miles down the beach. Other people and other things had slowly become more important than the One who made us to live in his passionate and intimate love. Therefore, we must learn to pay attention to our loves, particularly to our First Love. We must make time and space for the great affection of Jesus to capture and consume us again and again. We must be thoughtful and intentional about cultivating our romance with Jesus, the Lover of our Souls. Otherwise, we might end up just like the church at Ephesus, fueled by a dull sense of duty and obligation, rather than ignited and consumed with the passionate love of Jesus.
“As they talked and discussed these things with each other, Jesus himself came up and walked along with them; but they were kept from recognizing him.” (Luke 24:15-16) Sometimes we can get so busy talking about Jesus that we forget to talk to Jesus. Look no further than the two men walking he road to Emmaus. Sure, they had been through a lot. They were still processing all that had happened over the last several days. But Jesus himself came right up and walked along with them and they did not even recognize it. The million dollar question is: What, exactly, kept them from being able to recognize him? The answer to that question may lie in another question: What keeps you from being able to recognize him?
We get so caught up spinning around in our own little lives that we fail to recognize a lot of things, much less Jesus standing right in our midst. We get so distracted by our own opinions and agendas and explanations that it is impossible to see where he is, or exactly what he is up to. We need something, or Someone, to break us out of our continual loop and awaken us to his presence, his Spirit, and his voice. We need to have our eyes opened, so that we too might say, “Were not our hearts burning within us while he talked with us on the road and opened the Scriptures to us?”
Lord Jesus, there are so many things in this life that keep us from being able to recognize you; some of them even very good things. Help us to not get so caught up in our own lives and ministries that we miss you standing in our very midst. Have mercy on us, O Lord. Amen.
“Those who sow in tears will reap with songs of joy.” (Psalm 126:5)
In the midst of this chaotic world, it is so easy to get stuck on the first half of this verse and completely forget about the second half. There seems to be a lot of pain and struggle going around these days; and some of it of the totally overwhelming variety. Lots of tears and sadness and sorrow. Lots of sickness and suffering and death. And in the midst of all this sowing in tears, it is easy to lose track of hope. It is easy to become so consumed by our current surroundings and circumstances that we overlook what God might be up to both within us and around us as a result.
Which is totally understandable. Some pain is so raw and so bad and so wrong that it is hard to imagine any good coming out of it, or to conceive of what life might even look like on the other side of it. And that’s okay. Sometimes a significant amount of time must pass after the sowing in tears before we are even ready to try and get to the reaping. It may take months, or even years, before we are able to recognize what God might have been up to in the midst of our agony. But that doesn’t change the fact that he was, and is, up to something. God is so strong and so loving that he can and will bring beauty from our ashes, even if it is hard for us to fathom. And it is the hope of that reaping, either on this side of eternity or the other, that gets us through the day.
Joy is coming down the road, and it is more joy than we can ever ask for or imagine. There will be a day when we will both see the sheaves and bring them home. But don’t ever let the joy of what’s coming, make you miss the reality of what already is. God is here, right in the midst of it. So lean in. Take hold of him. Linger with the things that disturb or disrupt or undo you. You might find God right in the middle of it. Don’t run away. Don’t try to escape or avoid what is hard, if not impossible, to face alone. Just be present to Him who is always present to you, whether you can sense it or not. The sheaves will come, when the time is right. And, believe it or not, there will, one day, be songs of joy.
Question: How many plans have you had to change in the last 10 months? How many times have you had to cancel something, or had something canceled on you? Lots, right? Canceling things has been raised to an art form these days. Just today I had to cancel a day of solitude with a couple of dear friends because two of us were in contact with someone who “may have” been exposed to the Coronavirus. And that has become commonplace.
Maybe God is trying to tell us something. Maybe he is trying to get us to stop making our own plans and to start asking him what his plans are. After all, he is the one who said: “I know the plans I have for you, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you a hope and a future.” (Jeremiah 29:11)
Who knows, maybe it’s time for us to stop planning and start listening. Maybe it’s time for us to stop being the initiators and start being the responders. Maybe we have gotten so used to this mode of operation that we hardly notice it anymore. Maybe the whole reason we have to keep canceling things is because they were our things and not his. Maybe God is trying to get us on his page, rather than us constantly trying to get him on ours. Maybe this is a time, and a season, when he just wants us to "Be still and know that he is God." (Psalm 46:10)
Ash Wednesday is only a month away (Feb. 17). If you are looking for a good guide and companion to lead you and your friends, or family, or staff, or small group, or church, through the seasons of Lent and Easter, Journey to the Cross could be for you.
Contrary to popular opinion, leadership is not about becoming great, but about enabling others to become great. “The best leaders,” Parker Palmer tells us, “do not take up all the room.” In this dog-eats-dog world that seems a little backwards. It is counter-cultural, and certainly counter-intuitive. But in the kingdom of God things are often turned upside down, just look at the Beatitudes. Jesus came to show us a new way—the true way—and we would do well to pay attention.
Life is not about becoming bigger, but about becoming smaller, so that he may be big. Jesus preached it, John the Baptist proclaimed it, and pilgrims and saints down through history have testified to it. Thomas à Kempis wrote: “Enjoy being unknown and regarded as nothing.” Trying to be known, and seen as somebody significant makes us the worst version of ourselves. Angela of Foligno, in her last message to her disciples, said, “Make yourselves small! Make yourselves very small!” She knew all too well that trying to be big was the root of so many of our problems. John the Baptist said, “He must become greater; I must become less.” (John 3:30) And, in 1 Peter 5:5-6, Simon Peter, the leader of the early church, said, “Clothe yourselves with humility toward one another.” In fact, Jesus himself said, “Blessed are the meek, for theirs is the kingdom of God.” (Matthew 5:5)
Simply put, the path to life, and to leadership, does not lead upward, but downward. It involves humility (lowliness of heart) and meekness and self-denial. It demands that we empty ourselves of self and stay low to the ground. The very best leaders are those who put others before themselves, and the success of others before their own. For whoever wants to be great among you, must be serve, and whoever wants to be first must be servant of all.” (Mark 10:43-44) It is in the giving up of life that we actually find life. So even though the world would try to convince you that becoming small is a bad thing, don’t be fooled. Becoming small is the very best way to lead—it is the way of Jesus.
“And a highway will be there; it will be called the Way of Holiness. The unclean will not journey on it; it will be for those who walk in that way; wicked fools will not go about on it.” (Isaiah 35:8)
Holiness is such a tricky thing. On the one hand, we are holy because we belong to Jesus; we are given his holiness. Yet, on the other hand, we are also told to strive to be holy—to walk in the Way of Holiness. God’s desire for us is sanctification—that we would become all he intended us to be. The tricky part is that gray area where we cross some kind of line and actually start trying to do it on our own, rather than through his Spirit in us. For we cannot, no matter how hard we try, achieve holiness on our own. We cannot simply change our behavior without God changing our desires. It is an inside out sort of thing, not outside in.
Thus, the more we fall in love with Jesus—the one who redeemed and ransomed us, the one who gave us his holiness—the more we will desire to (and be enabled to) walk in the Way of Holiness. The more like him we will become. Holiness will not feel like some burden to be achieved, but a freedom to enter into; resulting in joy and gladness and delight.
“Stand at the crossroads and look; ask for the ancient paths, ask where the good way is, and walk in it, and you will find rest for your souls. But you said, ‘We will not walk in it.’” (Jeremiah 6:16)
There is a way that is both good and beautiful. It is a way filled with life and love and peace. It is a way filled with joy and gladness and delight. It is a way that can only be arrived at as a result of standing and looking and asking. And yet, it is a way we are invited to walk in. It is a way of living our lives, rather than allowing our lives to live us. It is a way that involves being exactly who and what we were created to be. This good way is meant to be a reflection of the very good nature of God’s creation intent. Thus the good of Jeremiah 6:16 is only an echo of the very good uttered in Genesis 1:31. It is living in alignment with who he made us to be.
But how do we know if we are actually walking in this good way? Well, that’s the easy part: our souls will be at rest. Which means, if our souls are not at rest, then we are not walking in God’s good way. It’s a spiritual diagnostic. God’s desire and intent for us is a good life, walking in the good way, that reflects our good God. It makes me wonder why we settle for so much less.
“After John was put in prison, Jesus went into Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God. ‘The time has come. The kingdom of God is here. Repent and believe the good news.’” (Mark 1:14-15)
It’s time. Time to stop talking and start walking. You’ve been stuck in neutral long enough. It’s time to put feet to the things you have seen and heard and known. It’s time to stop dreaming about the way things could or should be, and start becoming. You know what I’m talking about. You know those places where you have been too scared or too lazy or too comfortable to move, so you have just stayed where you are. Well, it’s time. Time to get up off of your butt, time to stop wallowing in your own fear or apathy or self-consumption or despair, time to leave the land of God and, in order to enter the land of God alone. So get up, whatever that may mean, whatever it may cost. For the cost is nothing compared to the reward—intimate union with me. Follow me to that place. Leave the old and broken and dysfunctional behind and come follow me. I want to lead you deeper into my heart. But in order to do that, you will have to leave your old life behind. Are you willing? Finally willing? It’s time.
Forgive me, Lord Jesus, for giving in to my fear or my comfort or self-centeredness, and refusing to follow you all the way to where you want to lead me. It’s time to give my entire self to you. Give me the grace and the strength and the courage to do so. Amen.
Anyway, as the day wore on, I learned some things I wanted to pass along:
1. I can do in 2 1/2 hours the work that one ordinary man can do in 1. Which wasn't new news to me, just a confirmation of something I've been aware of for some time now. I guess it does, however, make me extraordinary:)
2. You need a really good pair of earplugs to run a heavy duty leaf blower for 2-3 hours. I'll give mine a C-. What? Did you say something?
3. And this is the big one. There is an art to EVERYTHING! There is an art to blowing leaves, just like there is an art to cutting hair, or building a house, or doing accounting. There is an art to waiting on tables or running a company or selling real estate. There is an art to taking a photograph or writing a song or giving a sermon. There is an art to caring for a patient or cleaning a house or raising a family. In fact, everyone who wants to do a really good job at what they do is an artist.
I'm sitting at my dining room table most Friday mornings when the guys come by to collect our trash. I like to watch them, because they do a really good job. In fact, you can tell that they care about what they're doing. These guys are artists. I am also usually sitting at my dining room table when the lady who delivers our mail comes by. She's awesome. Always bright and cheerful; ready with a smile and a friendly wave. She's an artist as well. She cares about what she does and is really good at it.
All you've got to do in order spot an artist is to try your hand at what they do sometime, then you will be convinced. I have an appreciation now for folks that know the art of blowing leaves, and I don't think I will take that for granted again. But the biggest thing I learned today was that I need to begin to see and appreciate the artist in everyone. Join me!
Could it be that the way is not as much about reaching a particular destination, as it is about entering into a certain way of being? Could it be that it is not as much about where (or what), as it is about who? Could it be that it is not as much about geography, as it is about relationship? Could it be that we miss the way, as Thomas and Philip did, because we are looking for a place, when we should be looking for a person?
“Show us the way, O Lord,” we pray. And Jesus answers, “I already did show you. I am the way. Live your life in me—whatever you do and wherever you go—and you will already have arrived at your destination.”
“Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. 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. (John 1:3-5)
Today marks the 10th Day of Christmastide, the season where we celebrate the coming of the Light into our dark and broken world. But since we live between advents, between his coming and his coming again, we don't merely celebrate the light coming into the darkness at the birth of Christ, we celebrate the light coming into the darkness of the here and now. Which means, during this season, we have to have the courage and the patience and the willingness to face, and enter into, our own darkness, name it, and invite the light of Christ to come into it. For he is, ever and always, the God who comes. It is the joy and the hope of Christmastide.
“My heart is not lifted up, O Lord, my eyes are not raised too high. I do not concern myself with great matters, or things too wonderful for me. But I have stilled and quieted my soul, like a weaned child with its mother; like a weaned child is my soul within me. O Israel, put your hope in the Lord both now and forevermore.” (Psalm 131:1-3)
Charles Spurgeon once said that Psalm 131 is “one of the shortest psalms to read, yet one of the hardest to live.” That’s because this ancient prayer calls for us to do something that is totally foreign and counterintuitive—to become smaller. It calls us to abandon our high ways of thinking and seeing and being, and lower ourselves. It calls us to abandon our need to be needed, our need to be big and high and visible, and become like a weaned child with its mother. It calls us to stop trying to climb up and begin to embrace the journey down. It calls us to stop our striving and jockeying and posturing, and become still and calm and quiet. It calls us to come to terms with that fact that we—in the very best sense of the word—are unnecessary.
For this life is not about us, but about God. And when we finally begin to realize that, we come to find out that being unnecessary is not as bad as we thought. In fact, it is a good and beautiful and life-giving thing. It allows us to live in joy and in freedom. It allows us to live out of love and not out of need. For it is our need to be necessary that is at the root of so many of our woes.
So let us pray this incredible prayer. Let us pray it regularly and let us pray it wholeheartedly. Who knows, some day we may wake up and realize that something wonderful has shifted deep within us. Somehow we have actually begun to embrace our unnecessary-ness. For only then will we be able to know the joy and the freedom and the power of a life lived totally for God, rather than for ourselves.