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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 ...

Tuesday, December 28, 2021

messengers

If you had an incredibly important message that you needed to share with the world, how would you go about it?  My guess is that you would start with the most credible, powerful, influential, and well-connected people you could find, right?  Well, that’s not at all what God did.  He did not start with the “influencers” of the world, but with just the opposite.  God chose shepherds (Luke 2:15-20): lowly, uneducated, irrelevant shepherds.  God chose the most ordinary, humble, lowly, outcast group he could find.  Which shouldn’t be surprising at all since God seems to always start with the fringe, rather than the popular crowd.  I wonder why?

Maybe he chose shepherds because they were the most open and willing and eager ones he could find.  Maybe because they would be the ones most likely to drop everything—including the sheep—at a moment’s notice and leave it all behind, in order hurry off and find the Newborn King.  I mean, Herod would not even leave the palace, right? 

Maybe God chose the shepherds because he knew they would not get in the way of what he was trying to do; they were to ones least likely to try and hijack, manipulate, control, or profit from what God was up to.  They had no agenda, no need to make an impact, no need to try and spin it or use it for their own gain.

Maybe the reason God chose shepherds was because they were the ones who were the most free: free to receive, free to respond, free to share the news in a way that it was not about them, but about God.  And that’s exactly what they did.  They found their friends and their families and their co-workers—not exactly the who’s who of Bethlehem—and told them exactly what they had seen and heard.  And the people were amazed.  God had entered human history in the most random, unassuming, covert way possible, and these would be the perfect ones to tell the world about it.

Monday, December 27, 2021

today

today in the town of david
a savior has been born to you
luke 2:11

there is a gift
in the present moment
if you are willing
and able to receive it

if the grip of
current demands
or past regrets
of future concerns
do not rob you of
the gift of today

today there is
good news
of great joy
for all people

so don’t miss it

Sunday, December 26, 2021

what lies within

The contrast is stark (Matthew 2:1-11).  On the one hand you have King Herod and “all Jerusalem with him” who were apparently troubled (ESV), disturbed (NIV), deeply perturbed (JBP), or terrified (MSG) by the birth of Jesus, depending on which translation you use.  The Greek word (tarassō) means to agitate, which gives the impression that, at the very least, they were threatened and disrupted somehow.  I wonder why?  Why would the birth of a baby bring about such a negative and insecure reaction?  Unless of course that baby was not just any ordinary baby.  Unless that baby, in fact, was the King of kings and Lord of lords.  If that’s who that baby was, then it might well have been something to turn their lives upside down.

On the other hand, you have the Magi, foreigners who had traveled a great distance, seeking the One the star was meant to lead them to.  The star was only a sign.  Thus, when they saw the star, let alone the child, they “rejoiced exceedingly with great joy.”  Their journey was almost over.  They had reached their destination.  They were finally about to find the One their hearts had been looking for and longing for and hoping for.  Thus, one word was not enough to capture the emotion of seeing that star in the night sky, so Matthew used four different words: they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy.

But surely others had seen the star as well, right?  Did they just not know what the star meant?  Or did they just not care?  Were they so busy spinning around in their own little lives that they didn’t take the trouble to venture a measly five-and-a-half miles from Jerusalem to Bethlehem to see from themselves?

But the Magi did.  In fact, they had traveled hundreds of miles, seeking whatever, or whoever, the star was leading them to.  Thus, the joy they were filled with when they finally arrived at their destination.  Then, upon seeing the child, another reaction took place—worship.  Worship happens when you stand in the presence of someone, or something, much bigger than yourself.  It is a feeling of awestruck wonder that fills your heart with awe and brings you to your knees.  And the “someone” they found when they arrived was the One who held the waters of the earth in the hollow of his hand, spoke the mountains into place, and called the stars by name.  So they fell down on their knees and worshiped the Newborn King.  They opened their treasures to him and offered him gifts of gratitude and affection and honor and praise.

There are many ways we can react to the birth of Christ, and Christmastide gives us the time and the space to do just that.  Not to pretend or fabricate or manufacture a response, but to reflect and to recognize and to discover what is honestly there—no guilt, no shame, no ought or should.  It’s just where you are.  And where you are is exactly where God wants to meet you, it’s what the incarnation is about in the first place.  If you are full of joy and gratitude, thanks be to God.  But if you are agitated or disrupted or troubled or disturbed, don’t deny it or try to hide it, just ask him why.  If you lack joy, don’t beat yourself up over it, tell him about it.  It’s not like he doesn’t already know that anyway.  Ask him for the strength and the grace and the courage to choose joy.  Ask him to give you his joy.  Ask him to fill your heart with life and love and hope and peace and joy.  He is the source of all of those—just ask the Magi.

Saturday, December 25, 2021

he came

“And the Word became flesh 
and made his dwelling among us.  
We have seen his glory, 
the glory of the One and Only, 
who came from the Father, 
full of grace and truth. 
(John 1:14)

He came! 
He really came! 
In spite of the darkness
and in spite of the lostness
and in spite of the brokenness,
He came! 

Can you imagine 
what your life
would be like 
if he had not?

Friday, December 24, 2021

setting the stage

“In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world.  (This was the first census that took place while Quirinius was governor of Syria.)  And everyone went to his own town to register.

So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem, the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David.  He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was great with child.  While they were there the time was fulfilled for the baby to be born.” (Luke 2:1-6)

Random events are almost never random; they often have God’s fingerprints all over them.  I mean, a census?  Really?  But then why else would a man drag his nine-month-pregnant wife, who is great with child, on a four-day, ninety-mile journey when she was about to pop?   

Probably because it wasn’t random at all; the stage was being set for a glorious unfolding.  All of the characters were being set in place for a script that had been written hundreds of years in advance (Isaiah 7:14) and had existed in the heart of God before the foundations of the world.  And now everyone was in place and just awaiting that one little word from the Master Director: “Action!”

How is God setting the stage in and around you, on this Christmas Eve, for his coming?  He is, you know!

Thursday, December 23, 2021

zechariah's gift

Can you imagine being Zechariah?  All of those years, all of those prayers, all of those hopes and dreams, and finally God answers and gives him the son he has been waiting for and longing for and hoping for. 

And now, as we stand with Zechariah as he sings this song over his newborn son (Luke 1:67-79), we know the end of the story.  We know what lies ahead.  We know the pain and the heartbreak that awaits him.  Zechariah’s sweet son, the one he sings this song of hope and redemption over, will be a lonely outcast, who lives in the desert, and is eventually beheaded.  Can you imagine?

I guess it is a little glimpse into what must’ve gone on in the Father’s heart as he sent his beloved Son to earth.  You see, God never asks us to do something that he, himself, is unwilling to do.  His heart is so full of love for us that there were no lengths that he would not go to—including sending his beloved Son into this dark and broken world as a newborn baby—in order to show us how fully and deeply and extravagantly we are loved.  

Wednesday, December 22, 2021

obedience

“Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit.” (Matthew 1:20) 

You’ve got to admire Joseph.  He was put in such a tough spot.  Even though everything that was going on with Mary sounded absolutely preposterous, he was asked by God to trust and obey—and he did.  He was asked to believe that what was conceived in Mary was the work of God, whether he understood it or not; whether he agreed with it or not; whether the people around him thought he was doing the right thing or not.  He was asked to choose obedience over ease and popularity.

I get the sense that I should strive to do the same.  More and more, I find that I need to let God be God in people’s lives and just trust what he is up to, rather than trying to meddle, manipulate, or control it.  After all, he is God, and I am not.  He knows what he is doing and I need to honor that and trust in that.

Honestly, it is not an easy place to be, just ask Joseph.  I must be watchful, attentive, and prayerful as I venture in.  I must be careful to discern when and where and how he wants me to share my thoughts and opinions, and when and where and how he would rather me just keep my big mouth shut.; which can be both incredibly freeing and terribly frustrating, depending on whether it is all about me, or all about God and what he is up to in the life of the other.

Luckily, Joseph figured it out.  I need to learn how to follow his lead.    

 

Saturday, December 18, 2021

no room

“Because there was no room for him.”  (Luke 2:7)

Is that not one of the saddest lines in all of the Scriptures?  And, unfortunately, not much has changed in the last two thousand years.  We are still too full; and I don’t mean that in a good way.  Mostly, we are full of ourselves.  So full of ourselves, in fact, that there is no room for Jesus.

Thus, there is a making room that is necessary.  And making room for him does not happen automatically, it must be done intentionally.  Choices must be made.  We cannot say “yes” to everyone and everything.  We must say "no" to the things that keep us from being able to say "yes" to him.

Forgive us, Lord Jesus, when we allow our lives to get so full of our own plans and agendas and pursuits and distractions that we leave no room for you.  Help us to arrange our lives in such a way that busyness and hurry and rushing around are not our default mode of operation.  During this time and this season, teach us how to stop and be silent and make space for you to move and speak and act.  Amen.

Thursday, December 16, 2021

immaculate conception

whenever we encounter God
something is conceived in us

ours is but to receive it
and then to carry it within

to allow it the space
and the nurture
to grow into
what it is to become

Friday, December 10, 2021

when rest isn't rest

We live in a culture that has lost the ability to rest.  At best, we are oblivious to our need for it, and at worst, we are downright resistant to it.  In fact, in our culture there even seems to be a significant amount of shame attached to the concept of rest, which has huge implications for the quality and fruitfulness of our lives, as well as our work.  We are made in the image of the One who rested and calls us to do the same.  Thus, when we fail—or downright refuse—to rest, we tear away at the very image of God planted deeply within us.  We become far less than people he created us to be.

Part of the problem, it seems, comes from the fact that we have a flawed definition of rest in the first place.  How we define rest greatly affects how we practice rest.  Far too often the things we do in the name of rest are not really restful at all.  This is most likely the result of us defining rest as anything that is not defined as work.  Thus, travel and hobbies and recreational activity (and even yard work) are often defined as rest, when they are really nothing more than distraction or escape.  The things we do in the name of rest are as comical as they are tragic.  They are merely our own misguided attempts to do whatever we want to do, all in the name of getting some rest.  Sadly, this will never give our souls what they most desperately need.

Luckily, God comes to the rescue.  He gives us some great hints of what rest is, and what practicing rest looks like.  He uses two words to do that: šāa (stop) and nûa (settle in).  Thus, in order to rest the way God intended, we must learn how to stop and we must learn how to settle in. 

First of all, in order to really rest, we must stop.  Which is a huge problem because we don’t really know how to do that.  We are great at “go,” but we are terrible at “stop.”  Thus, any attempt to rest, while continuing to go, is doomed to failure.  And yet we do it all the time.  We have to learn how to stop.  In fact, we must start by stopping.  And this stopping doesn’t just involve our legs, but also our hearts and minds and souls.  Physical silence and stillness is the first step, because once we still our bodies, our hearts and minds and souls will eventually follow, but it takes some time and space. 

That’s where the second word comes in.  We don’t just have learn how to stop, but we also have to learn how to settle in to that stopping.  We have to learn how to remain stopped.  True rest takes a while, it cannot be done in a hurry.  There is no express lane or drive thru.  The only way for the soul to find rest is to learn how to remain stopped for a significant period of time.  It is in this settling in that we learn how to engage God and allow him to engage us.  It is the space where we learn how to turn our souls toward him, listen to him, and allow him to breathe the life-giving breath of his Spirit into us.

Once we are able to do those two things, God tends to do the rest: he moves, he speaks, he acts, he draws, he breaths, he renews, and he restores.  He is wonderfully faithful to do all of those things if we will just give him the room.  As Annie Dillard once said: “You don’t have to sit outside in the dark.  If however, you want to look at the stars, you will find that darkness is necessary.  But the stars neither require nor demand it.”  Likewise, you don’t have to stop and settle into silence.  If however, you want to find rest for your soul, you will find that stopping and settling in are necessary.  But God neither requires nor demands it.  Or, as King David once said (sort of), “You don’t have to lie down in green pastures and sit beside still waters.  If however, you want to have your soul restored, you will find that they are necessary.”  It’s really up to us.   

Thursday, December 9, 2021

servants and stewards

“Who then is the faithful and wise servant, whom the master has put in charge of the servants in his household to give them their food at the proper time?  It will be good for that servant whose master finds him doing so when he returns.” (Matthew 24:45-46)

How easy it is in this life to forget the fact that we are not the owners of the “house” in which we live, but merely its servants and stewards.  And, as such, we have been given the responsibility to care for it until the real owner returns.  Once we recognize and acknowledge that fact, it should change the way we see (and do) everything.  Let us, therefore, live in such a way that we take good care of all that has been given to our care.

Help us to always remember, O Lord, that we are just servants and stewards.  We do not own this “house” we live in; we are merely given the responsibility of caring for it until you return.  Help us to do so diligently, tenderly, and faithfully.  Amen.

Wednesday, December 8, 2021

coming

“Say to those with fearful hearts, ‘Be strong, do not fear; your God will come.’” (Isaiah 35:4)

It is easy to lose hope in His coming if we have ignored, or been distracted from, the smaller ways He is constantly coming into our lives on a daily basis.  The hope of Him coming in fullness is nurtured and sustained by our recognition and experience of His coming into our everyday existence.  For He is always coming in some way, shape, or form; it's just who he is.  Our job is simply to pay attention.

Tuesday, December 7, 2021

shine

“The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.” (John 1:5, ESV)

I don’t know about you, but oftentimes the darkness within and around me feels pretty dadgum dark.  In fact, at times it is completely overwhelming.  But the beauty of the incarnation is that the Light has come into that darkness.  And no matter how dark the darkness is, or how dark the darkness becomes, it cannot and will not overcome the Light.

So shine, O Light, into our darkness, and give us the life and the joy and the hope and the peace that only you can give.

Monday, December 6, 2021

ripening

“Be on guard!  Be alert!  You do not know when that time will come.” (Mark 13:33)

What an interesting word choice.  Instead of the word chronos, which refers to time in terms of days or hours or minutes, Mark uses the word kairos, which refers to time in terms of fullness, rightness, or readiness.  Kairos is not a time that can be specifically determined by a clock, but a time that can only be determined by a thing’s ripeness.

Thus, during this season, when we are instructed to wait for the Lord, we are not doing nothing; we are actually doing the most important something that we can do.  We are making time and space for whatever God is doing within or around us to come to fruition.  We are ripening.  We are becoming all that we were intended to be.

So wait, Dear Ones, with patience and confidence, with courage and hope.  For God is at work in and through and around you, producing a harvest that is beautiful and bountiful.

Sunday, December 5, 2021

ludicrous

Ludicrous: causing laughter because of absurdity; ridiculous; laughable.

It’s impossible to read the story of the nativity without realizing how wonderfully bizarre the whole thing is.  I mean, who in their right mind would do it this way?  The answer?  God would.  Only God would come in such a way that it would leave us laughing in disbelief, just ask Sarah (Gen. 18:12). 

So when God chose to bypass Tiberius Caesar, Pontius Pilate, Herod, Philip, Lysanias, Anna, and Caiaphas, to send his word to John, son of Zechariah, in the desert (Luke 3:1-3), there’s only one word for it—ludicrous.  God often acts in such a way, it seems, that the only appropriate response is to laugh and shake our heads in awestruck amazement.  God is not like man; he has a wild and wonderful imagination.  He is just as likely to sneak into his world as he is to make a grand entrance.  We just never know how or where or when—or through whom or to whom—he might show up, so we have to pay careful attention.  It certainly keeps us on our toes, if not on the edge of our seats.

So, during this season, we might do well to look for God in the ludicrous.  After all, that seems to be where he shows up more often than not.

O Lord, help us to look for you in the ludicrous.  For if we do not, we are likely to miss your coming.

 

Saturday, December 4, 2021

savor

“I wait for the Lord, my soul waits, and in his word I put my hope.” (Psalm 130:5)    

It seems to me that there are two ways of looking at waiting for the Lord.  We can either look at it as an opportunity to savor, or as an obstacle to endure.  We can believe that God is present and active and at work in the midst our waiting, or we can believe that he is not.  One feels really hopeful and one does not.  One leads to trusting the Lord and the other leads to trusting ourselves.  So which will it be?

During this season, where we are asked to embrace this posture of waiting, let’s not miss what God is up to in us and around us as a result.  Let’s choose to savor Him in everyone and everything.

Friday, December 3, 2021

oil

“Give us some of your oil; our lamps are going out.” (Matthew 25:8)

No one else can live your spiritual life for you.  No one else can read your Scriptures, no one else can offer your prayers, and no one else can engage with God in the silence and stillness of your own heart.  You must do it, or it will not be done.  

Those around you can encourage you to have oil of your own, but, ultimately, whether or not you have any when the time comes is completely up to you.  No one else can give you their oil; you are responsible for that yourself.  So make sure you have enough, even if the bridegroom is a long time in coming.

Thursday, December 2, 2021

prepare

“A voice of one calling in the wilderness, ‘Prepare the way for the Lord, make straight paths for him.’” (Luke 3:4)

Prepare is an interesting word.  It usually conjures up images of running around in a million directions, trying to get all of your ducks in a row.  But if you break it down, the word prepare might just mean something different than what we think.  The first part, pre, obviously means beforehand.  And then pare means to remove or reduce by cutting; to diminish or decrease.  So rather than creating a long list of what needs to be done, it’s actually more about reducing things to what is most important.  It involves being focused on the one thing, rather than being distracted by the many things.  It involves living life in a certain way, rather than doing a whole bunch of random things.  It involves living in a state of perpetual preparedness in which the things that we do naturally and organically flow out of what God is doing within us.   

That definitely seems to be the kind of preparedness that’s called for during the season of Advent.  A preparedness that involves cutting more things out, rather than adding more things on.  A preparedness that involves sitting at his feet and listening to what he has to say, instead of running around like a crazy person, trying to get things done.  A preparedness that involves doing less, rather than doing more.  A preparedness that is more about subtraction, than it is addition.

Which begs the question: What do I need to cut out in order to be prepared for His coming?

Wednesday, December 1, 2021

burn

luke12:35

keep your lamp burning
tend and nurture the flame
of the Spirit that dwells
deep within you

it will light the way
for you and for others

don’t ignore it
don’t neglect it
don’t let it wane
don’t let it go out

don’t allow the cares
of this life to extinguish
the light and life within you

pray continually
make space and time
pay careful attention
watch and wait

this is how
we stay ready
for his coming


O Lord, help me to never neglect or ignore the flame within.  It is your very life within me.  Help me, by your grace, to keep my lamp burning, so that your light illuminates my heart, as well as your world.  Amen.