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Book of the Month: Schola Caritatis: Learning the Rhythms of God's Amazing Love

  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 ...

Saturday, July 31, 2021

know your yes

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

the pilgrim way

“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


the pilgrim way
is a lonely road
it leads away

from noise and clamor
from attention and acclaim
from impact and influence

it leads into the desert
where all we have
to hold onto
is the hand of God

Thursday, July 22, 2021

go out weeping

“he who goes out weeping, 
carrying seed to sow, 
will return with songs of joy, 
carrying sheaves with him.” 
(Psalm 126:6)

go out weeping
always go out weeping
not cocky and confident
not prideful and arrogant
not critical and judgmental
not certain and sure

go out weak and vulnerable
go out humble and dependent
go out fully aware of your own brokenness

go out with questions rather than answers
go out as nobody rather than as somebody
go out as someone with much to receive
rather than one who has much to offer
go out to love and to serve

for only then will you
return with songs of joy
carrying sheaves with you

Monday, July 19, 2021

sabbatical

“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

stopping lessons

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 (nûa).  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

take charge

take charge
of your becoming
stop giving the world
so much power over you

give time and space to God
let him control the narrative
he alone knows who
you were meant to be

and he will gladly tell you
if you will just listen

Monday, July 12, 2021

groaning as a spiritual practice

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

wait

psalm 62:1,5

for God alone
my soul waits
in silence
is so foreign
to my regular
mode of operation

i run ahead
i manufacture
i produce
i initiate
i lead

rarely do i stop
rarely do i sit
rarely do i listen
rarely do i wait

if i claim 
that i am
following you
then how is that
even possible

for my life tells
a different story
it tells me that
i am not following you
but following me

how different
would things be
if i only did
what you told me to

for God alone
O my soul
wait in silence

Wednesday, July 7, 2021

pick up your mat and walk

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

freedom

freedom is not
doing whatever
i want to do

freedom is
the ability to
love and serve God
without all of my shit
getting in the way

Thursday, July 1, 2021

the kiss of judas

luke 22:48

rarely is a kiss
just a kiss

what seems
pure and beautiful
on the surface
might have a
different agenda
it might be fueled by
want and need
what looks like love
might actually be
manipulation

forgive me
Lord Jesus
when i offer you
the kiss of judas
when life becomes
more about my
need and agenda
than about yours
when what looks 
like it is being
done for you
is actually being
done for me

have mercy